Spotlight On: Norwegian’s “Epic” and Family Cruising in the Caribbean
Here we share one family’s experience on a recent 7 day Caribbean cruise with Norwegian Cruise Lines. Cruise vacationing presents a great option for families, as it provides you with so many options for activities within a centralized location, as well as the opportunity to explore interesting points around the world with ease. Cruises let you relax or create an action packed vacation, depending on your family’s personal preferences. Special programs for children, as well as the sheer variety of dining, shopping and entertainment options mean you can stick together, split up, or do a little of each in an exciting venue. You also have the opportunity to experience a variety of destinations in a short period of time, without having to stress over the logistics of getting everyone from port to port.
With a lot to love about cruising, today we feature an in depth review of the Norwegian Epic from one family. This review features what they love about cruising, the experience of sailing with Norwegian on the Norwegian Epic, as well as the activities they enjoyed while in Jamaica, Grand Cayman and Cozumel, Mexico.
First up, a little About the Family:
The type of vacation we typically choose is luxury. For our activities, we like luxury and often stay at the finest hotels, but we are also adventurous and love off the beaten path types of experiences and always seek them out. We aren’t bothered by very “local” experiences anywhere and think these are very important to our vacation. We love adventure. We also like a mixture of regular, touristic and organized places. We enjoy hiking and outdoorsy activities. We enjoy museums, markets and other activities geared towards children. We like to maximize each day by seeing as much as possible. As experienced cruisers, our families has taken about 7 cruises in as many years, with several different companies.
Our children at the time of this trip: 6 children- Boy age 16, Girl age 16, Girl age 16, Girl age 12, Boy age 8 and Girl age 4.
And some background on Norwegian Cruise Lines and the Norwegian Epic:
With nearly 50 years of experience, Norwegian’s newest ships redefine luxury by creating a resort-like experience at sea. With premier dining and entertainment options, there is as much to do at sea as there is in port – whether that be in the Caribbean, Europe, Alaska, Hawaii, South America, Canada & New England, on a Transatlantic journey or any of their other destinations. Norwegian has been ranked by the World Travel Awards as the top European cruise line for seven years running, and top Caribbean line for the last two.
The Norwegian Epic is a relatively new addition to their fleet, having been completed in 2010. The ships newer than the Epic which are currently in service are the Getaway and the Breakaway; a new ship to be known as the Escape is set to launch in the fall of 2015. The Epic boasts impressive features, with the thousand foot ship able to accommodate 4,100 guests. Don’t confuse that number with a crowded feeling, as over 20 dining options and a crew of almost 1,800 ensure that your stay is unique and exciting. World class entertainment and a variety of activities, pools, nightlife opportunities, and spa experiences make this a ship that has something to offer any conceivable type of family – or family member. The Epic sails the Caribbean, Florida/The Bahamas, European and Transatlantic routes. The Epic has been awarded “Best Cruise Ship Entertainment” by Frommer’s.
The Trip Itself:
The trip was Norwegian’s 7-Day Western Caribbean Cruise out of Miami. The ship embarked in Miami, Florida and stopped in Ocho Rios (Jamaica), George Town (Grand Cayman), and Cozumel (Mexico) before disembarking in Miami. The trip includes one day in each of the three Caribbean ports and three days at sea. Our review of the Norwegian Epic 7 Day Caribbean cruise covers elements of both the specific ship and the Western Caribbean itinerary. After April, 2015 the Epic transitions to Europe for a year.
Family Review of Norwegian Epic 7 Day Western Caribbean Cruise
What We Loved:
The Haven is billed by Norwegian as “Modern, spacious suites perfect for the two of you or the whole family. First-class amenities include large balconies, butlers and more.” Truth be told we didn’t want to spring for this because the upgrade is not cheap and we had already had paid for 2 balconies. However, once on the ship, we realized that it was well worth the splurge for us. It would be hard to find any significant criticism of the Haven. It is a great product for those who can afford to spend the money on it. We are accustomed to high end hotels, and more calm, quiet spaces. As a result, we might not have done well with the livelier, busier pool all day. While we could enjoy it for some portion of the day, and appreciate the energy of the more “public” pool (especially the music) in the end when on vacation we prefer quieter, less busy places. This is true of the common areas of the ship as well. There is something really nice about walking through the private door and entering a more serene space.
Here is what we enjoyed within The Haven:
2 Bedroom Villa (holds 6 people):
Overall this had great style, and a very comfortable room arrangement. The main bedroom and bathroom were comfortably sized and stylishly appointed. It had very nice sized bathroom with 2 sinks – a very useful feature on a ship. The bathroom closes with a curtain. While we initially thought it would have been better to have a real door for noise purposes, we realized that they have these really nice, almost floor to ceiling windows in the master bathroom and if there was a door to the bathroom, the main bedroom would have no windows or natural light. With the curtain, you can keep it open to allow the bedroom to have light and a view through the bathroom windows, or close the curtain for privacy. While not a perfect solution, we recognize that in designing ships there are big challenges, and this was the lesser of two evils. The shower and toilet are enclosed for privacy using frosted or striped glass (the toilet room has striped glass so it is not as private). There were nice robes, plenty of storage space for clothes and gear, as well as nice wood-looking trim throughout. There is a smallish size bathtub (great for kids, adults were tempted to use it but didn’t so can’t say if it was as adult friendly as it seemed to be) and a generously sized shower. Taking a shower (or bath) with the almost floor to ceiling windows while overlooking the ocean is a really wonderful feature. There is a pull down shade for privacy when in port.
The living room was comfortably sized, with a couch that turns into a single bed. We loved the high quality espresso machine in the living room, and the TV was high quality as well. Sipping an espresso (or 2) on the balcony while overlooking the sea is amazing. Not having to trek across a huge ship to get an espresso is even better!
The second bedroom was small, but fine for kids. Adults would not have liked it. Our kids enjoyed it. It features a larger lower bed (good for 1 adult or 2 kids) and an upper bunk bed (for 1 kid). It had no windows, with a smallish but acceptable bathroom, though that also lacked windows.
We had mixed feelings about the balcony – some other guests thought it was small. We thought it was a fine size, and enjoyed using it. If they made it larger, it would have taken space from either the main bathroom or the living room, and we think they made good choices as to the design and size. The balcony was really for 2 people, not 6. Our only real complaint about the balcony is that while it had nice, cushioned wicker chairs – they were the sitting kind. It would have been better to have chaise lounges on the balcony; we would have used it more.
The 2 bedroom villa was an excellent choice and we appreciated the extra space and amenities. Bear in mind that we had three teens,one tween and two younger kids, and that was fine. If our kids were older it would have been a little less comfortable. Don’t expect to squeeze 6 adults, or lots of older kids into the suite and be as comfortable as we were. Overall this is definitely an excellent product that will fill many families’ needs.
Butler service was a useful feature. We asked for chocolate milk for our kids and it was delivered within 3 minutes, which was impressive. In fact, any time we needed food it was delivered very quickly. Our butler retrieved things like lost shoes and other items which is supremely helpful for a large family. One of our children lost their shoes at the pool and he went to find them, and he helped us fix the espresso machine within minutes of developing an issue (which was caused by us). Essentially, we enjoyed very quick service, knowing that undoubtedly on a ship of this size, these types of issues would have taken longer if we had a regular room.
The cabin steward was nice, accommodating and overall consistent with our experiences on most cruise ships and cruise lines we have taken.
The Haven pool area was very nice looking and stylish. The one downside is that you don’t have an ocean view. It was nice for quiet reading and for the fact that there was no crowd. Also nice were two, quieter hot tubs (which you can’t expect to find in the main pool area). The pool itself is small, but good to dip into if you need to cool off. We used this area a little, but not as much as we would have if we could have seen the sea. It had a comfortable crowd size, and on the first sea day had several empty chairs available. On the second sea day, by 10:30 AM all the lounges at the Haven pool were taken, though there were non lounge chairs available (couches and seats, all cushioned). On port days after returning to the ship, there was plenty of room here and it was a very nice refuge from a more crowded, louder main pool area.
Concierge service was really helpful. Ours booked meals and tickets for shows, as well as other things that needed reservations. He also met us in advance of each show, in order to escort us into better seats held for guests of The Haven. This had to be done a half hour ahead of the show, in order to allow access to reserved seating. Any guests can get on a regular line 30 minutes ahead of a show and wait until they open the doors to get in, and thus can likely get similar seats – but they will be waiting on line (instead of sitting) until they let everyone in. The concierge cannot get you better seats to Cirque Dreams (you still have to purchase premium seats if you want the better view), but he does escort you to your reserved seats there as well (ahead of everyone else). Essentially, with the concierge you don’t have to wait on any line to get into a show as long as you are willing to get there 30 minutes ahead of time. Keep in mind that because of the freestyle nature of the ship, for many of the shows – such as Legends in Concert, Blue Man Group and others are shown in the Epic theater which has a reasonable number of seats – the seats will typically fill up. We highly, highly recommend that you make your show reservations ahead of time (ideally online ahead of your trip) to avoid being disappointed (NOTE: You can make these reservations even if you aren’t staying in The Haven). This will allow you to see the show you want on the day and the time you want to. The reservation process is simple. If you don’t do it ahead of time, they have easy ways to do it on board (and if you are in The Haven the concierge will take care of it for you). Another really great feature of the concierge is that he also escorts you off the ship on port days (and for disembarkation), so you get to go ahead of everyone else. This is tremendously helpful in a ship of this size. This is also true of ports where you have to tender – the concierge escorts you to a tender without having to wait in line.
The exercise room was a nice plus, in that the Haven has a small, private workout room, and you don’t have to walk all the way to the other side of the ship for the main fitness center. It was nice and quiet, and had excellent equipment. It did not overlook the ocean, which was not important to us but worth noting if it might be important to your family. They also have spa treatment rooms in the Haven – we were not fans of that. If you don’t want to walk to the spa, we could see this being useful, but if you want the spa atmosphere, be sure to inform them that you want your treatment in the spa itself rather than The Haven. The Haven spa rooms seems convenient, but lack the same ambience.
The Epic dining room was great. We enjoyed the calm serenity of this dining room, and not having to wait on a line to get in (though you should make a reservation just in case). The bar outside the Epic dining room was also very pleasant and stylish. Note, however, that it closed at 10:30 PM; we would have tried it more if it was open later.
Bottom line on The Haven:
If you are accustomed to higher end hotels, and willing to pay the money, it is well worth it. It can allow you to sail a huge ship such as the Norwegian Epic with its 4,100 passengers and all the hecticness (which is positive and negative) of a large ship – and retreat to relative peace and quiet. Also nice were the extra perks which, for us, added a lot to our enjoyment of the trip. We are spoiled travellers and enjoy high end hotels.The Haven was the perfect solution to taking a great mega ship and adding most of the right luxury touches and service. It allows us to say the Norwegian Epic, together with The Haven, is a great option for families who like to travel more on the luxury side.
Howl at the Moon is a great music show. 3 musicians played everything from 80s music to TV theme songs, Meatloaf to Celine Dion. They played for a long time with no breaks (each one took their own break while the other 2 continued playing). The show had great energy from a funny and engaging group with good voices. We definitely recommend you give this a try. Our kids also enjoyed it for awhile, but keep in mind some of the language can be a bit off-color, especially later in the night. Not recommended for kids in the later evening hours.
The Common Areas of the ship were really outstanding. We have been on many cruises, but had yet to sail on one of the newest class of ships that started to come out around 2009 or so. The common areas certainly did not disappoint. We loved the style, the fact that there were so many different options – and even different entertainment venues instead of just one theater. They did a truly fantastic job in this regard.
The Aqua Park consisted of water slides and a kiddie pool area. There were three really fun slides, including one that our kids say is called “the toilet bowl” for the way you circle down in a bowl-like area, before being dumped into another portion of the slide. The lines were not long at times (at other times they were, but never for too long) and the kids loved these. The adults tried them as well and they really were quite fun. Definitely a great feature to have, it keeps the kids entertained for quite awhile and makes sea days more exciting.
The i-Concierge App. This allowed us to text and call our kids (you can text or call anyone on the ship who has it) and stay in touch with them to let them know where we were, where we were going, and when we wanted to meet back up. With so many things to do, and such a big ship, this was a smart, and really useful feature for families. The message system is free to use, but the app is a bit pricey at almost $8 per user. The app also has other features, which let you see what is going on on the ship. We didn’t use these but see how they could be helpful. If you have the app, staff on the ship can call your smartphone. If you don’t have the app, you can carry around your stateroom’s cordless phone and the staff can call you that way.
Cirque Dreams & Dinner. This Cirque du Soleil dinner show was a truly excellent show. We all loved it, kids and adults The acts were all really well done and the atmosphere was very nice. The dinner-theater combination was a nice feature for families. We opted for the premium seats and thought they were great, worth the extra money if you can swing it. We recommend you reserve ahead of time (online if possible) but really just highly recommended this show.
Activities and offerings throughout the day were as exciting as they were varied. While we didn’t avail ourselves of all of these, the ship definitely has a lot to offer and a wide variety of things to keep most people happy. From fitness classes, to Nickelodeon inspired activities for the kids and lots more, there is plenty on the schedule day and night to keep you interested and active. You are only limited by your choices and how much energy you have left. During one Nickelodeon contest, our 12 year old daughter was chosen as a team captain and the winning team’s captain got slimed – meaning our daughter was slimed. She had lots of fun doing this. On the three sea days there was plenty to do during the day to keep everyone entertained and we never felt bored.
What We Liked:
The Pool Area. It was lively and had lots of music all day. There was a Nickelodeon show our first afternoon that the kids really enjoyed. The pool area was full, and there was definitely a shortage of seats, though we suspect that would be true on almost all cruise ships. On the first sea day, the pool had no chairs available by 10 AM and the same was true by 8:45 AM on the second sea day. They did try to maximize the amount of chairs in the pool area and did a good job with that. Nevertheless, the seats were filled quickly. They have seating on upper decks as well, and we didn’t venture to those decks to see if there was seating available there. The pool itself was nice and the kids had a great time in it.
Shaker’s Martini Bar had excellent service. The entertainment (a singer) was good as well. We enjoyed our brief time there.
Svedka Ice bar This was definitely an interesting feature. We were glad we tried it, but we aren’t running back either. Our kids lasted about 15 minutes (they do have non-alcoholic options). We lasted only a little longer.The kids had fun and thought it was cool to try as a different experience. It is worth noting that it is also quite expensive (though that’s to be expected at an ice bar on land as well). The staff was very friendly and accommodating; seeing as you’re already on the ship this may be worth stopping by.
Second City Comedy Show Only we parents went to the adult show at 11 PM. This was not our kind of show – too much in the way of swearing and adult themed content. We were warned ahead of time and knew what we were getting ourselves into, so that isn’t a misrepresentation, we were simply curious and confirmed it was not to our taste. The troupe was talented, worked hard and did a good job. It just wasn’t our type of show. The rest of the audience seemed to love it. Later in the week we saw an earlier (family friendly) show that our kids enjoyed a lot. That was definitely worth going to, the later show only if you like that type of humor.
Posh Beach Club was a nice area, and useful to those who want to see the ocean and sky in a more serene area, but not otherwise that impressive – we could see the appeal to some. It was disappointing that they had no shade at all, and no umbrellas to use. For this reason you may only really want to use it if you can stand the sun all day, or to only visit here in shorter spurts. This area is only open to Haven guests and a limited number of non-Haven guests who purchase an entry pass.
Nadeen the Hypnotist. We saw 2 shows. The first, a family friendly version, was very funny. We all enjoyed the show and laughed a lot. The second we went to was a 10 PM “adult” show. The program was clearly marketed as adult, but a staff member told us it was “PG-13”. Nevertheless, we knew we were taking a risk bringing our 12 year old given the description in the daily freestyle program. Nadeen tried to keep it somewhat family friendly because there were lots of kids in attendance, and overall she did a good job at it. At some point one of the people being hypnotized turned around and pulled down her shorts and underwear exposing her bottom. This wasn’t the hypnotist’s fault- she did not ask her to, or even suggest it. We think the contestant might have been drinking, though it is impossible to say for sure. The audience all gasped and the kids saw more than they should have seen, but that was the fault of the parents (ourselves included) not the ship or the hypnotist because the program was described as adult. In any event, it was a totally unsolicited, spontaneous act on the part of the contestant, just something parents should be aware of in considering an unscripted show such as this one, which is billed for adult audiences.
ABBA party at Spice H20. Our family loves ABBA music and this event did not disappoint. If you and your family like Abba music, dancing or just a general atmosphere of fun and excitement, this is the kind of event for you. Very family friendly and fun.
Movies. Norwegian does show some films on big screens at night. We didn’t go to any ourselves, but others did and seemed to enjoy them. This is a nice option for families who want to do something low key, especially after a busy port day when all you want to do is relax.
Legends in Concert This show is a mixture of tributes to current and former music legends. The acts paid tribute to Aretha Franklin, Adele, Jimmy Buffett, Lady Gaga, Johnny Cash and others. The singers were wonderful – they all had great voices and were very energetic. The entire audience loved it and we really enjoyed ourselves. This is great family cruise entertainment.
Blue Man Group. Our younger kids really enjoyed it and most of the audience also seemed to love it. As adults, we thought portions of it were amusing, but otherwise we were not so impressed. Our teens thought the same. That is not to say it wasn’t a well done production – we were told by some who have seen it in New York that this was a very similar production – so they did a great job in this regard. The Blue Man trio, their crew and the musicians did a great job, but it was simply not the type of show that we (as adults) enjoy. Our older teens thought it was fine, and our younger kids (ages 4-12) really liked it.
Shopping. The ship had a nice selection of shops with different kinds of wares in each. There was nothing particularly unusual here. Having been on a number of cruises it was what you would expect in terms of selection and prices. Our family doesn’t place an emphasis on shopping while cruising, so this was more than adequate.
Bowling. We didn’t partake in this particular activity, but others seemed to have a lot of fun with it. It is a nice option to have for families. This is the sort of game everyone can enjoy together so if you and your family like bowling, it is worth giving it a shot. It is important to note however that that there is an additional charge for playing. They have two options on the Epic, the Bliss Ultra Lounge and O’Sheehan’s Bar and Grill bowling alleys.
Rock Climbing was a fun activity for one of our daughters. She tried it once and thought it was challenging and fun.
Splash Academy Kids Club. Our 3 and 8 year olds liked the space they had set up and the activities. Our 12 year old did not enjoy it (primarily because 12 year olds are grouped with 10 year olds). Our 16 year olds thought their space was well designed when they had a look, though they decided not to participate because there was so much else to do on the ship. The younger kids did not use the club as much as we thought they would have. We were not particularly keen on the staff – not that they did anything wrong, but there was not the same connection between the kids and the staff as we are typically accustomed to on other cruises. In the end we think it is a tradeoff related to the size of the ship. Our past cruises were on smaller ships with fewer amenities and thus, smaller kids cubs. This led to more interaction with staff and a warmer feeling. This mega ship attracts that many more families, meaning more children, and thus needs to be more efficient and less relationship-based when it comes to individual children. In the end this wouldn’t prevent us from choosing this ship, or one of a similar size in the future, we just feel they could have made a greater effort to be warmer to the kids.
The Staff. On virtually all our prior cruises we have, with rare exception, felt the staff ranged from really good to outstanding. This is speaking in terms of their desire to please the guest (within reason) and convey warmth with a genuine (or seemingly genuine) desire to please. The staff on the Norwegian Epic was similar. Many were genuinely warm and caring, with a strong desire to make our vacation great. As is typical, they were very hard working. With all cruises, we know that the staff works very hard, and on a ship like this, with so many passengers, it is undoubtedly a real challenge. They do the job well. We typically get to know a lot of the staff when we cruise; we didn’t get to do much of that here. This is our first experience on a large ship such as this one, and it seems to be the nature of the beast. This is especially true considering the freestyle nature of the cruise – instead of dining at the same table at the same time every day, we got served by different people in different restaurants (though we mostly ate at the Haven dining room, so we did get to know that staff a little better). It seems to be that you simply get to know the staff faster and better on a smaller ship with fewer passengers, while it is harder on a ship as large as the Norwegian Epic.
What We Didn’t Like:
The Internet Service. The price was in line with other ships we have been on, but the service was very slow. This is not uncommon on most of the ships we have been on, and it is frustrating that ships haven’t figured out how to deal with this issue. WiFi service is available in many areas around the ship, which is helpful, but you have to find a good spot for service or you will burn through your minutes very quickly just downloading your emails. In the end this is a more of an issue with cruising in general than the Norwegian Epic, but worth noting as you plan a vacation.
The Standard Rooms, including the regular balcony rooms, fell below our expectations. On an otherwise terrific ship, with great style and features, it seems that not enough thought was put into designing these. While the cabins did look stylish and were much better appointed than the cabins on other ships we have been on, after their design they suffered some setbacks. We put two of our children in one such room that was stated to fit four. We found the space to be too tight, have very little storage, and in our view we think it would not have been very comfortable for four people. You should also be aware that instead of a traditional, private bathroom, they created a toilet enclosure on one side as you walk into the room and a shower enclosure on the other side, separated by the area with your bed. Each enclosure is framed with a frosted plexiglass partition. In our view, the frosted glass does not provide adequate privacy unless you are traveling with a spouse or significant other. To add privacy, the two enclosures can be separated from the bed area with a curtain, but this means that if you are travelling with someone, that other person will either be stuck in the room, behind the curtain, while you are showering. This plexiglass enclosure does little to muffle bathroom noise. We were told that many people think it is fine, so maybe our family just prefers more privacy than most. The balcony in the room was good, though the chairs were not the same as the ones in our suite at The Haven. These rooms are fine for two or maybe three children together, a couple, or two close friends who aren’t shy or in need of great privacy. They would also perhaps work for a couple with a very small child. Any other configuration, or anyone who particularly values privacy, may be disappointed with the arrangement of these rooms.
The Final Verdict?
It is hard to criticize a ship of this caliber. Norwegian did a really great job with the public areas and amenities. If you are travelling on a ship of this size, with 4,100 passengers, you have to know you are going into a huge ship that will be lively – with lots of people looking to have fun. If you want a vacation with a fancy, quiet pool, and peace and quiet, this ship is not the place to be (though upgrading to The Haven can definitely help balance that). However, if you want an active ship, with plenty of really great entertainment options, and very well designed and fun public areas – The Norwegian Epic is fantastic option.
For a family travelling with kids, this ship is a really good option because it has a wide variety of things to do and great entertainment to make all members of the family happy. Our family had an amazing vacation, and that speaks volumes about the Norwegian Epic.
Read More About this Particular Cruise Vacation Including Port Stops in these Articles:
- Spotlight On: Dolphin Discovery in the Cayman Islands (With Other Locations in the Caribbean)
- George Town, Grand Cayman Itinerary
- Spotlight On: Ocho Rios While Cruising
- Ocho Rios, Jamaica Itinerary
- Cozumel, Mexico Itinerary
- Spotlight On: Jungle Island in Miami
- Miami, Florida Itinerary
Interested in Booking a similar cruise for your family? Check Out:
- Great Norwegian cruises at amazing prices from CruiseDirect
- Expedia offers a variety of discounts on Norwegian cruises
- Priceline has Caribbean cruise deals from $169!
Be sure to read these great tips related to cruising:
- 6 Tips to Help You Avoid Norovirus and Stay Healthy on a Cruise
- The Top 10 Benefits of Taking A Cruise Vacation With Kids
- Collecting Souvenirs
- How to Choose the Best Suitcases for You and Your Family
- Currency Conversion: Dos and Don’ts While on Vacation
- Traveling with Cell Phones and International Calling
- 8 Tips to Avoid Motion Sickness While Traveling
- Tips on Keeping Children Safe on Vacation Swims
- 6 Things You NEED To Plan Ahead
- Tips for Renewing Your U.S. Passport
As well as some great articles and itineraries related to the Caribbean:
- Spotlight On: Cozumel, Mexico
- Spotlight On: Jamaica
- George Town, Grand Cayman
- Saint Maarten, Caribbean Islands
- Nassau, Bahamas
- Rio Grande, Puerto Rico and surrounding area
- Saint John, US Virgin Islands (With a Second and Third Itinerary)
- St John USVI and Virgin Gorda BVI
- Saint Thomas, US Virgin Islands
* Some photos courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Lines
Please note that some of the links included in this piece are affiliate links and in such case, Real Family Trips will receive a small commission if you make a purchase after clicking on the link.