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Portside – Maui

Most cruises seem to spend two days visiting Maui, and that’s great since there is so much to see and do.  I was also lucky enough to spend a week on Maui a few years ago so I’ve included some of those experiences too.

It depends on the cruiseline where you will port.  Norwegian’s Pride of America docks in Kahului, which is really just an industrial area.  From Kahului we took the free bus to Hilo Hattie’s which is great for buying Aloha-wear and souvenirs.  We found a gorgeous matching dress and shirt (on sale!) to wear to the luau.  Several years on and we still wear them whenever we get the opportunity.  Great place to get your dancing hula dolls for your dashboard, male or female!

On the second day we rented a car for with two destinations in mind.  The first was lunch at Alexander’s Fish and Chips in Kihei (which I understand has since closed, very disappointed about that).  The second was to take my mother-in-law to visit beautiful Lahaina, which I will talk about more below.  The car rental was very reasonable and had a shuttle service to the port, although we walked back rather than wait because it wasn’t very far.  The drive from Kahului to Lahaina is between 30-40 minutes, but is very scenic once you hit the coast.  Royal Caribbean, and possibly other lines, drops anchor in Lahaina and you will tender to shore where you will find plenty to do.

Lahaina

Beautiful mountain view from Lahaina

Beautiful mountain view from Lahaina

There is so much to see in Lahaina, you really don’t need to pay for an excursion.  Once off the ship you can explore the picturesque town, visit the marina and the banyan tree, take surfing lessons, or lay on the beach.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe rented a paddleboard for $35 for three hours from Royal Hawaiian Surf Academy and walked about 100 yards to the beach.  The water was very shallow, so perfect for a calm paddle, but not quite deep enough to swim.  It’s a beautiful beach, not crowded, and within walking distance from the port.

For a walking tour, the link below will guide you around the town and restaurants.

http://www.bestofmauiguide.com/assets/Maps/LahainaWalkingMap.pdf

Or if you want to visit the historic sites, you could follow the map on this link.  There are two versions available, one for a 30-minute walk, another for a 90-minute walk.

http://www.lahaina-family-vacation.com/lahaina-historic-trail-maui.html

Road to Hana

Temptation Tours

Temptation Tours

Everyone will tell you to drive the road to Hana to see the fabulous views, waterfalls and black sand beaches.  I would recommend you don’t drive it yourself but take a tour – the benefits far outweigh the additional cost.  If you drive yourself, you will spend all your time concentrating on the winding roads and miss out on the sights, not to mention get very frustrated with the other drivers on the road.  We took a tour with Temptation Tours which included a very comfortable drive in a mini-van to Hana, then a helicopter ride back.

Black Sand Beach, Hana

Black Sand Beach, Hana

The driver was very knowledgeable and narrated along the way.  Before setting off, he handed out ginger to alleviate any car sickness we might get from the twists and turns.  We stopped several times for photos, a swim in the waterfall, and to visit a flower farm where the ladies were given a bouquet of Hawaiian flowers.  The drive lasted two to three hours.

Once we reached Hana, the driver laid out a picnic at the black sand beach.  We had plenty of time to explore the area and he answered any questions we had.

Maui Air Helicopter Tour

Maui Air Helicopter Tour

Then he took us to meet the helicopter for our ride home.  This lasted about 40 minutes and took us above over the Haleakala volcano and past many waterfalls.  The pilot was also very informative about what to look for and some of the history.  There are no roads on this south side of the island so these are views that can only be seen from the air.  Unfortunately there was fog over the volcano so we didn’t get a clear view inside but that will be the luck of the draw.  It was still a fantastic ride back to Kahului.  Of course, a dvd was available to purchase so you can relive it whenever you’re feeling nostalgic for Hawaii.

Snorkeling Molokini

Spontaneous Whale Watching

Spontaneous Whale Watching

Spinner Dolphins

Spinner Dolphins

We took a snorkel tour from Lahaina which took us out on a huge dingy towards Molokini for some snorkeling around the crater.  Since this was in December, we were lucky enough to spot some whales breaching and they stopped the boat so we could take photos.  We stopped in two different locations to snorkel but I didn’t see as many fish as I would expect, but I think this would depend on the day.  We had a buffet lunch before heading back to Lahaina.  On the journey back, spinner dolphins were swimming and jumping alongside the boat – very entertaining!  All in all, not the best snorkel excursion I have done but the whales and dolphins made for a great day out.

Ka’anapali Resort 

Outrigger Canoeing in Ka'anapaali

Outrigger Canoeing in Ka’anapaali

Just north of Lahaina are all the resort hotels with their gorgeous beaches.  If you take a beach excursion with the ship, this is probably where you will go.  We wanted to try paddling an Outrigger Canoe as we’d never done this before.  Surprisingly in Hawaii, this sport is more popular than surfing!  We found Maui Paddle Sports online and booked a 90 minute paddle with them.  They also do surf and paddleboard lessons.  From Lahaina, you need to take a cab and make sure you get dropped at the correct Westin hotel.  We ended up walking two miles to find Westin Ocean Villas after being dropped at Westin Maui Resort.  There is a beautiful walkway along the coast, so we decided to walk all the way back to Lahaina after the canoe trip.  It took a couple of hours but it was worth it.

Luau

Everyone needs to go to a luau at least once just to get the full Aloha experience.  There are many available and, with an overnight stay on a cruise ship, you have that opportunity.  Check out this Luau Guide to find the best one for you.

 

Fun Cruise Reads, Part 5

Murder on a Ghost Ship

by Diane Rapp

ghost ship

A ghost, a murder and a smuggling ring are at the center of this fast-paced cruise novel.

I received my free copy as part of a Goodreads giveaway and purchased the first in the series, Murder-Caribbean Style, to read first.  You could read this on its own but I enjoyed the character-development in the first book.

In the second of the High Seas Mystery series from Diane Rapp, the main character, Kayla, finds herself called on for help from her friend who has just bought a cruise ship.  The catch is that the ship turns out to be haunted.  To help the ghost pass to the other side, Kayla and her friends must find the ghost’s murderer.  I have to admit I knew ‘whodunnit’ fairly early on, but it was still a great read, figuring out if I was right.

In this second novel, there was less travel-guide and more mystery than in the first, and the addition of the supernatural angle made it very different from anything I would normally read.

A little supernatural with a cruise-theme and part-island travel guide made this a great vacation read – so I left my copy in an Hawaii-Australia-bound ship’s library for others to enjoy while they are cruising.  If you found it, you’ll have to drop me a line.

 

Lady Justice and the Cruise Ship Murders

by Robert Thornhill

lady justice

This was a fun murder/mystery with a treasure hunt thrown in, set on an Alaskan cruise and the ports they visited. The book contained some interesting Alaskan history concerning the gold rush and had some likeable, if not somewhat aging, characters.  Although I haven’t read any of the other books in the series, I didn’t feel as if I’d missed anything. Overall I enjoyed it and would recommend it for a lighthearted cruise read.

 

One Hell of a Cruise

by Michelle Ann Hollstein

one hell of a cruiseI’m not even sure whether I enjoyed this book or not.  I actually thought it might be quite gruesome from the title, but was completely wrong.  Aggie, the main character, is supposed to be something of an amateur sleuth, although there really wasn’t much sleuthing until closer to the end of the book.  Perhaps the build-up was just too long, but I found it to be a bit slow until the last 25% of the story.

Basically a group of friends and acquaintances go on a cruise together, and much of the story is interaction between them and people they have met on board.  Although there are three suspicious characters travelling together, it is hard to tell what kind of mystery is to be solved, so I wasn’t pulled into the story.  Overall, it had a reasonable ending but perhaps needed a few more clues along the way to get you to participate and not just read.

 

Hearts That Survive

by Yvonne Lehman

hearts that surviveA beautiful story surrounding the Titanic disaster, the lives lost and the love and family found.  Following the main character, Lydia, the story is interwoven with those connected to her through friendship and tragedy.  While the Titanic’s maiden voyage was key to the tale, much of the story took place after the survivors arrived in New York and involved the lesser-known assistance provided by the people of Nova Scotia.

I loved some of the characters, their complicated relationships, and how the story crossed generations.  This is one of the better Titanic stories I have read and, I almost never do this but, I would read it again.

Fun Cruise Reads, Part 4

Unsinkable Mister Brown: Cruise Confidential – Brian David Bruns

In the third of the Cruise Confidential series, we finally start to understand why Brian has pursued this woman he met for three days and followed around the world.9780974521763-Exterior

In some parts, I loved Bianca; in others, I thought she was selfish and a martyr  But what is indisputable is that this man loved this woman with a passion few of us are lucky enough to experience.

The book begins with the three day trip to Romania where we meet Bianca and her parents, the Pops, who are so endearing, you will want to meet them too. As they traveled together, we traveled too, thanks to Mr Bruns’ descriptive ability to make us feel as though we are there.

Back on the cruise ships, life is not ideal, and we are reminded of the difficulties of long distance relationships especially in the intense environment of ship-life.

I feel like I need to go back and re-read the first two books, now that I have a better understanding of the relationship.

I’m guessing there’s another book to come… hope so!

 

Murder Caribbean-Style – Diane Rapp

A travel writer takes a free cruise on board the ship she used to work on and finds herself investigating the murder of her ex.

murder caribbeanBetween visits to the islands’ tourist spots to update her guidebook, Kayla finds love and solves the mystery with her Interpol boyfriend.

I enjoyed the lighthearted murder-mystery set on a cruise ship and several familiar Caribbean islands. The cast of characters was interesting, including an undercover magician, a psychic, and the various ship’s crew, together with their local contacts on the islands.

Overall, this was a great vacation read, light and breezy, with a little mystery to boot. I look forward to the next two in the series.

 

A Man Overboard – Shawn Hopkins

Since this book mentioned cruising, I thought I’d give it a try. man overboardAlthough part of it was set on a cruise, the main theme was a Russian spy mystery. A man searches desperately for his missing wife and son while people around him end up dead or missing as he gets closer to solving the mystery.

This book was a page turner and I was immediately sucked in to the story of this couple, so desperately and passionately in love, trying to take a cruise vacation before beginning her cancer treatments.

Definitely worth a read if you enjoy a good spy mystery.

 

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Fun Cruise Reads, part 3

Ship for Brains

Brian David Bruns

ship for brainsIn the second installment of Brian David Bruns’ cruise ship trilogy, he begins his career as an art auctioneer.  We follow his journey through his training, promotion to art associate and culminating with the achievement of his objective: to get his own ship assignment.  This journey, at times appearing to be brutally painful and inhumane, is all in pursuit of his Bianca.  There was very little interaction with Bianca in this book so I am still at a loss to understand why he is so drawn to this woman (but I find that all is revealed while reading his third book, The Unsinkable Mister Brown).

There was so much I didn’t enjoy about this book, but it was not the quality of writing, or even the storytelling; it was the treatment he endured and the nasty cast of characters speckled throughout, leaving little room for the usual spattering of humor.  However, one of the highlights for me was the Gregg family, especially the family excursion.  I wished more of the book was like that, with endearing characters and non-sex-related cruise experiences, but then it wouldn’t have demonstrated what he went through to achieve his ultimate goal.

 

Cruise Ship S.O.S

Ben MacFarlane

cruise ship sosThis time, a British doctor’s perspective of an around-the-world cruise.  There were some interesting characters peppered throughout although, being a ‘worldie,’ most of the travelers were old-fashioned British gentry and not the usual passengers we meet on a typical Mediterranean or Caribbean cruise.

I thought this book was really well written, and the credits at the end confirmed the assistance of a ghost writer, making it easy and entertaining to read, more like a novel than a collection of disjointed events that you often get with people writing about their own experiences.

 

When You Look Like Your Passport Photo, It’s Time To Go Home

Erma Bombeck

Inpassport photo true Erma Bombeck-style, we take a look at the humorous side of travel.  Some parts were laugh-out-loud funny and I really enjoyed relating her experiences to my own.  There are a couple of cruises thrown in for good measure, giving a light and easy read; perfect for a vacation.

The Benefits of Cruising

In response to a recent e-mail I received, I was inspired to write about why we love to cruise.  Mainly I think of the benefits of cruising when comparing to similar vacations.

It’s a Portable Hotel Room:

How many people do you know who want to visit “Europe?”  That’s quite an undertaking since there are many countries each with their own highlights and not-to-be-missed sights.  I particularly want to visit Venice and the Greek Islands.  By taking a cruise, we can unpack once and visit (briefly) each of the places we want to visit.  We can even extend it to a cruise-tour to visit some of the land-locked locations.  If there is one place we particularly enjoy and want to explore further, we can book a future vacation to go back and spend more time.  I see it as a “taster” of places to visit.

You don't get this in a hotel room

You don’t get this in a hotel room

In contrast, for a more traditional vacation, we could book multiple hotels, rent a car, struggle with local maps, and then spend half of the vacation travelling from one location to the next by plane or train, exhausted by the time we reach the next stop.

Think about visiting Hawaii – how do you choose which island to visit, or how much time do you want to spend flying from one to the next?  I would much rather spend a day on each, then book a week’s stay on my favorite island at a later date.  The same goes for the Caribbean islands – how can you possibly visit them all if not just for a day?

And the “piece de resistance”… Alaska can really only be experienced by cruise ship to view the stunning glaciers while watching for whales.

Built-in Entertainment:

Finding evening entertainment is often difficult and pricey on vacation, so the evening usually consists of dinner and retiring to the hotel to watch tv or read.  But on a cruise, there is something going on every night, from comedy shows, bands playing in the bars, karaoke, not to mention the extravaganzas going on in the three-level theatres.  I have two favorites so far: the Ice Show on Voyager of the Seas, and on her sister ships, is just phenomenal for both the skill level required of the skaters, and its entertainment value; and the Blue Man Group on Norwegian Epic.

Something for Everyone:

Try something new!

Try something new!

I love sea days, when I can relax and read on the balcony, spend some time at the gym, and lose my $20 in the casino (yes, that’s my limit!).  There is something for everyone on board, from the kid’s clubs, the pools, various demonstrations, a sports deck with perhaps rock-climbing, mini-golf, or even surfing!

Great for Family Reunions:

Imagine trying to coordinate a family reunion.  You book a block of hotels at an agreed location and meet up successfully enough.  But what are you going to do about getting around the island, deciding where to eat, dividing up the bills for activities and meals?  And what if you don’t all want to do the same activities?  This is where a cruise is the perfect reunion vacation.  You’ve all booked your own cabins, in the price-range of your choice, and your meals are already paid for.  You pick the excursions you want to do, separately or together, and they’re all charged to your individual rooms, then transportation is provided to and from without having to figure out how many cars to rent or who is going to pay.  And the best part, the kids have their own play-areas, safe and age-appropriate, while the adults spend time at the pool or drinking at the bar.

Easy to Budget:

One of my favorite things about a cruise is that my costs are fixed or, at the very least, controllable.  I can go on a cruise and not spend anything for the whole week.  You don’t have to pay for meals, nightly entertainment, kid’s clubs, or workout facilities.   Of course, there are plenty of opportunities to spend a LOT of money in the casino, spa, nightclubs and bars, and specialty restaurants, but even some of these activities can be cost-controlled by pre-paying for drinks or dining packages.

Then there are the excursions.  I generally prefer to take an excursion offered by the cruise-line, especially if I haven’t visited that port before.  Again, the cost is agreed upfront, and I’m not stuck in the middle of nowhere, held hostage for money to deliver me back to the ship in time.  There are no nasty surprises and extra hidden costs.  Plus you have the confidence that you will receive a refund for any cancellations, or even if the weather is bad.

Twelve cruises on…

We’ve taken un-cruise vacations since, but it’s just not the same.  We were hooked after the first cruise, even though we didn’t think it sounded that appealing when friends had recommended it.  Now, if only I had more vacation time!

More fun cruise reads…

Cruise Confidential by Brian David Bruns

cruise confidentialAt last! “Cruise Confidential” is a book by an author who happened to work on a cruise ship, not a cruise ship ex-employee who happened to write a book!

I was endlessly entertained throughout Mr Bruns’ voyages of self-discovery and self-deprecation as he followed his sweetheart into the cruise ship industry. Little did he realize the difficulties of continuing a relationship under the stresses of life on board a ship together, or the strain of separation while on different postings. The book gives a humorous insight into the life of the crew-members and a behind-the-scenes look at life on board, where the politics, battles and friendships of the corporate world are amplified in the self-contained domain of a ship. Engrossed in the tale, I am torn between ultimately wanting the writer finding happiness with Bianca, whilst believing that she is clearly not good enough for him and wishing he would find someone else.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and laughed out loud in places. I already have a couple more of Mr Bruns’ books lined up to read including the next installment, “Ship for Brains.”

Nook readers may also be interested in this free short story available for download on BN.com.

The Monkey and the Dame – Brian David Bruns

 

Below the Waterline by Stephen Barber

below the waterlineLuckily I read this book before I read “Cruise Confidential” otherwise I would have been very disappointed. However, it was much better than some other cruise ship tales I have read.

The author spent some time as a DJ on various cruise ships although he didn’t seem to be able to hold down a job for more than a few weeks. The book explored his relationship with his parents as he tried to make his own way in life instead of joining the company business, even though this left him broke and destitute at times. There are some sex and drug use references throughout, but that is probably to be expected from a novel by a man in his twenties. Overall, not a bad read.

If anyone would like me to “Lend” the Nook version of Below the Waterline, please contact me at cathy@addictedtocruises.com.

 

Cruise Crazy: The Cruise Addict’s Survival Guide by Bob Mick

cruise crazyAlthough I loved the idea of this book, it actually turned out to be more of an encyclopedia of comedic cruise terminology than a novel, so that made it hard for me to read.  To be honest, I only skim-read parts of it because, although fun, it didn’t really capture my interest.  I am a self-confessed cruise addict and could relate to some of the terms, but it wasn’t really my kind of humor.  Perhaps it is just that the truth hurts!

 

Valentine’s Cruise on Mariner of the Seas


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Portside – Cozumel

We have visited Cozumel several times now and there is still so much to see and do, but I wanted to review a few excursions we have taken.

Clear Kayak and Snorkel

Our first excursion was perhaps not as good as it could have been due to strong winds and currents, but it wasn’t cancelled and we enjoyed it nonetheless. A taxi took us to a small resort just a few minutes away from the port. We were given our kayaking equipment and some guidance before being guided along the coast. The kayaks are a clear Perspex-type material but quite scratched so you can’t really see much beneath you. This may also have been because the seas were a bit rough and not as clear as usual. Due to the strong current, some people struggled to get back to shore but the guides were able to tow them back without any trouble.

We were then issued our snorkel equipment and followed the guide along the shoreline. He dived for starfish and pointed out several interesting sights. It wasn’t the best snorkeling we have done but not bad for getting your feet wet (excuse the pun).

The resort was nice and there was time to spend on the beach afterwards before catching the taxi back to the port.

Xcaret

Underground River

Underground River

We were looking for an excursion where my dad would be able to see some Mayan ruins but we would also enjoy some different activities, having visited the ruins on our previous trip to Mexico. The visit to Xcaret was perfect. It was a long day; a 6 ½ hr excursion including 45 mins each way on the ferry and another 30 mins each way on a bus, leaving only about 4 hours to enjoy the park. There is a lot to see and do so you will need to plan your route and activities carefully. Xcaret has some ruins, marine wildlife, parrots, entertainers, cultural exhibits and a fabulous underground river, just to name a few activities.

Mayan Ruins at Xcaret

Mayan Ruins at Xcaret

If you plan to swim the underground river, you should do it first. You can pack your belongings into waterproof sacks to be delivered to the end of the river, to pick up after your swim. You can then plan what you would like to see on your walk back through the park. The river was very cold but once you were in, it was so much fun. It takes about 40 mins just to float or gently swim, but my husband managed it in 20. He was a little disconcerted when he looked over to see a small snake swimming alongside him but I’m sure it was harmless! You could take snorkel gear if you have it as there was plenty to see throughout.

Mexican Acrobats

Mexican Acrobats

We saw a variety of animals during our walk back, took a look at the sharks and dolphins (you can pay extra to swim with either), saw some ‘gators and giant turtles. Some Mexican acrobats were putting on a show and it was quite impressive, especially the wheel of bikes! We visited the ruins and historical village, on our way to the parrot exhibition. They breed parrots in the park and so you can see them in their incubators at various ages. We didn’t get any lunch while we were in the park. I had taken some light snacks and we decided to wait for the buffet back on the ship rather than waste any of our four precious hours in a restaurant.

We stopped in the gift shop for a soda and there were more incubators containing tiny hatching birds; I think they may have been quail.

Overall this was a great excursion and everyone enjoyed it, but the highlight was definitely the underground river.

Fantastic Stand-Up Paddle-Board and Snorkel

I’ve wanted to try stand-up paddle-boarding for some time now, although I notice that some excursions, like in Nassau, offered boards for two people. Having tried this now, I don’t see how you could get two people on a board and stay standing!

SUP Girl

SUP Girl

I thought perhaps they were exaggerating when they called this excursion “Fantastic” but it really was! And we all had our own board… which was a good job since my husband kept falling off his. Somehow I managed to paddle down the coast and back without even getting wet, and I attribute that to good balance learned practicing yoga. We were all given a quick briefing on the equipment and how to get onto and stand up on the board. If you don’t want to stand, you can also kneel or sit just like a kayak.

Fish Frenzy

Fish Frenzy

Once the paddle-boarding was finished, we got our snorkel equipment for a guided snorkel. This was probably the best snorkeling we have done. The guide had some food for the fish so they were swarming around us and following us as we drifted down the coast in the current. There was no need for swimming; we just floated for the most part. Other than the many fish, we saw barracuda, a baby yellow stingray, a bat fish and even got to hold a sea cucumber.

The resort was beautiful and the facilities including a pool and restaurant were available for use after the activities were over. You could just get the taxi back to the ship when you were ready or if you wanted to do some shopping downtown, you could request to be dropped off but would need to pay your own taxi from there back to the ship.

Norwegian Epic

First Impressions

Norwegian Epic

Taut with expectancy, we boarded Norwegian Epic.  The boarding process was quick and efficient even with 4,500 guests.  We walked up the gangway, eagerly anticipating the magnificence of an Epic atrium.  As we boarded, we were immediately herded up the stairs to the buffet.  But where was the “Wow”?  Every ship I have been on has had a “Wow” factor, especially Voyager of the Seas which gained a “Wow” each and every time we boarded.  Even little old Sovereign of the Seas had a “Wow.”  We were sorely disappointed.  Even when exploring after lunch, we were not overly impressed with the ship.  The décor was tasteful but not as glamorous as I had expected.  Overall, it’s a very nice ship and there was not much I would specifically comment on (unlike the atrocity that is Carnival Splendor!) but I just wasn’t wowed.

The Epic's Centerpiece

There was an atrium of sorts, where decks 5 and 6 were open to 7.  Almost the whole of deck 6 was a casino but I liked how spaced out it was instead of being cramped into a smokey area, together with the Epic Theater and Spiegel Tent.  Make sure to visit the Box Office as they were able to accommodate us to shows that we couldn’t book online.  I think they must keep some seats open for people who didn’t get their entertainment organized ahead of time.  Shops were on 7, the typical cruise fare including some reasonable souvenirs and clothing.  Deck 5 had a giant tv screen used for Wii, Spa presentations, Meet & Greets and even the Undercover Boss episode featuring CEO Kevin Sheehan.  A nearby coffee shop had specialty coffees and hot chocolate, as well as complimentary tea and coffee.  There is also the photo area with computer terminals holding photos of the cabin members, plus ring binders for each cabin.  They must have excellent facial recognition software because even our Spongebob Meet and Greet photos showed up in there without us admitting who we were.

Cabins

Viewing the Ocean from the Balcony

I had originally booked a balcony cabin on 11 but called to upgrade to a large balcony a few weeks before the cruise.  I didn’t have to pay for the upgrade but once I arrived in the cabin, I realized what a mistake I had made.  Instead of a beautiful ocean view when sitting on the balcony, I found myself in a metal box with an opening.  You could only see the ocean when standing.  Also, there is no benefit to a large balcony if only two chairs are provided.  Needless to say, we didn’t spend our usual hours reading on the balcony this time.

The wave-walls of the cabin allowed for a very narrow walkway through the cabin, but enough space for one person to navigate.  The biggest issue was the curtain-enclosed bathroom since no-one could come or go while another person was using the bathroom.  You had to ensure the door was locked from the inside so that people didn’t walk in on you since the toilet and shower doors were frosted glass.  I’ve been married almost 25 years but I still prefer a little more privacy that that!

There was enough storage although one of the “wardrobes” had no hangers so just became a cupboard where I stacked everything up.  The décor was pleasant but not memorable.

The Studio Lounge

My mother- and brother-in-law had studio cabins.  These were compact but very functional.  They were very happy with them once they discovered how to switch off the neon lighting.  Being in a studio gave them access to the singles lounge which had coffee, cereal, sandwiches etc in a fridge.  When commenting on the variety of towel animals we had found in our cabin, we discovered that for the first few days, their towel animal had simply been moved around the cabin until it eventually fell to pieces.  Only then did they receive a different animal.

Pool Areas/Water Slides

Fun on the Epic Plunge

It took us almost all of the week to discover a very quiet deck area at the front of the ship, above the Posh and Spa cabins.  The alternatives had been a few nooks and crannies we found above Spice H2O.  The pools were small, especially the one in the Spice H2O section where there was definitely no room for swimming.  The slides were good fun and the lines not too long, although it seemed to be mostly adults in line.  The main pool area was a madhouse, especially where food was being served.  We stayed in the area for as short a time as possible.

Entertainment

Nickelodeon

Spongebob & Patrick

We didn’t have any kids with us so didn’t participate in the Nickelodeon breakfast or Slimetime Live! events but we did come across Spongebob and Patrick a couple of times for Meet & Greet opportunities.  That made a grown man very happy!

Cirque Dinner

This is definitely worth the $25 or $35 cover charge.  We had bought standard seating thinking that we would be able to sit in the balcony, only to find they had changed their policy and that was now considered premium seating.  Even seated in the booths on the main floor, I think we had at least as good a view, if not better, than some of the folks in the premium floor seating area.  The booths were raised about six inches off the floor allowing us to see over the heads of the premium guests, although when the performers were high in the air, there were times we could only see their legs.  But then there was so much going on, there was usually something else to focus on.  Cirque acts included jugglers, acrobats, strongmen, trapeze, illusions…  the performance was, at times, a veritable Mad Hatter’s Tea Party!

Dinner was a fixed three-course menu including Surf and Turf and a small dessert selection.  The beef was excellent and the rest was pretty good.  All in all, I would definitely recommend this.

Blue Man Group

Blue Man M&GHaving booked our BMG tickets early in the week, we were getting withdrawal symptoms and managed to get into a second show by waiting for standby seating.  Second time around, it was just as good as the first!  This is an excellent quality show for the whole family.  After the second show, we waited for the Blue Men to get our photos taken and we weren’t disappointed.  Apparently there is usually a ship’s photographer there, but not on the last night, so bring your own camera.  Watch out for the Q&A session, “Men Behind the Blue” when you will see them out of costume and answering questions from the audience.  It was very interesting to hear about behind the scenes, auditioning and the training involved to become a Blue Man.

Legends

When I saw the Legends show advertised, I expected to see stars like Michael Jackson, Elvis, or maybe Madonna.  Even the website mentions Lady Gaga and Steven Tyler.  So imagine the disappointment when the “Legends” were Whoopi Goldberg, Donna Summer and Jimmy Buffett.  I know we weren’t the only people shaking our heads.  Several people we talked to were also surprised that there weren’t more than two performers (Whoopi and Donna Summer were the same singer), but many people don’t even know who Jimmy Buffett is.

Second City

There were several different Second City shows available and I think perhaps the “Improv” show might have been better.  There were some funny skits revolving around being on a cruise ship but I didn’t enjoy this as much as I expected.  We have seen Second City before on the Norwegian Spirit and really enjoyed it so it probably depends on the comedians.

The Casino

I purchased the $50 for $25 offer from www.slotplaycoupons.com although you could also get a $20 for $10 offer from NCL.  The $50 is loaded onto a card to play in the machines, but as soon as it is transferred to the machine, you could cash out, effectively “winning” $25 immediately.  However, I played my $50 over several nights.  I am convinced that the machines are set to be generous at the beginning of the cruise and less so as time goes on.  I didn’t replay any winnings I cashed out, and actually ended up coming home with $60 so I was pretty happy, but then I’m happy if I can break even!  My conclusion is that I am definitely addicted to Kitty Glitter.

Restaurants

I can only comment on the complimentary restaurants as we are not foodies and prefer to keep our onboard account at a minimum, so the buffet is usually good enough for us.  We ventured to the buffet for most meals where there was a good variety of food.  I particularly enjoyed the pasta station where your choice of pasta, sauce and extras (mushrooms, chicken, sausage, veggies) are cooked to order.  The dessert station mainly comprised of small mousse-type desserts or pies, but also had ice cream in many flavors.  Also, the ice cream machine was nearby with a variety of toppings available.

O’Sheehan’s is an Irish-style pub and I was thoroughly looking forward to fish and chips with mushy peas.  Unfortunately it didn’t meet my expectations as the batter was much too thick and not crispy, the fries were too thin, and the peas… oh the peas….  Let me clarify, mushy peas are basically mushed up marrowfat peas, not usually available in the US, so I was surprised to see them on the menu.  But we had mushy peas on Pride of America in Hawaii, so I was hopeful.  Unfortunately these were blended sweet peas, not marrowfat… yuck!

We gave O’Sheehan’s another chance and I had the pot pie which was excellent.  We also ate breakfast there one day since they had corned beef hash on the menu, but it was more of a chopped potato and ham so didn’t pass the test for my husband.

We also ate at The Manhattan Room and Taste.  Both were nice restaurants and the meals were good.  In the Manhattan Room I had some beef empanadas, rosemary chicken and some cheesecake.  I don’t think it was a baked cheesecake but pretty good all the same.  At Taste, I had a Portobello mushroom with goats’ cheese, a NY strip steak (I needed ketchup but couldn’t find a server) and a raspberry sherbet for dessert.  Overall, nice meals, but we found the buffet to have more variety and so everyone was happy.

Although I thought we got off to a rocky start, this was a great cruise.  The ship felt generally crowded but we found some quieter areas and definitely enjoyed both the entertainment and the Freestyle dining aspects.  It was definitely worth what we paid for it, although I admit we have reconsidered our Inaugural Breakaway cruise because we were less impressed with Epic and don’t want to pay more than twice as much and be disappointed.  We will wait for the reviews and maybe consider Getaway next year.

Norwegian Epic “End of the World” Cruise

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