As a veteran of an 11-day TransAtlantic cruise on Norwegian Cruise Lines’ Epic, here are some tips I have put together, based on my experience, for anyone interested in saving time, money and effort on an Epic cruise. These suggestions might also help make your cruise more enjoyable. I hope so. Cruising on the Epic, the world’s third largest cruise ship, is a unique experience.
1. Book, or at least price, your itinerary on NCL.com first. Study up on possible discounts, upgrades, onboard credits and special deals you might be eligible for. For anyone over 50, it’s a good idea to be a member of AARP. A discount in the price of the cruise of up to $100 per person is applicable. AARP members are supposed to also be eligible for category upgrades (“interior to balcony,” “balcony to mini-suite”, etc. the offer says on the promotional page on the NCL website; “all ships, all destinations, all cruises” the offer said); although, in my experience, it did not apply to me for some reason. If you decide to have a travel professional help you, if you have checked the NCL website first, at least you will know what the markup (or discount) is.
2. Most cabins on the Epic are balconies. Try to request a balcony cabin in which the bed is closest to the balcony window. This will give you some separation between where you sleep and where you use the toilet, shower, brush your teeth, etc. The Epic has a unique bathroom setup, where all the bathroom facilities are not separate from the sleeping area. So in the configurations where the bed is closest to the bathroom area, when you are in bed, your head might only be about two feet away from where you use the toilet; meanwhile, your feet may almost reach the sink.
3. On a TransAtlantic voyage on the Epic (which it does twice each year), I recommend choosing a south-facing balcony. The reason for this? Prevailing winds seem to be more from the north on this route; if you have a north-facing balcony, you will be likely lashed by wind, rain and salt spray most of the trip. Not only will you not be able to enjoy your balcony very much, you might not even be able to open the sliding door without letting in the elements. South-facing balconies are protected from the weather, and – this is also important – the south-facing balconies also get more sunshine at the times of year when Epic makes these cruises. Dress warmly; the mid-Atlantic is cold and so are north winds that blow across it. (None of this really applies to Mediterranean or Caribbean cruises.)
4. If you are arriving at Miami airport to go on an Epic departure, don’t try to save money by taking the MetroRail to the Miami cruise port. It can be done, and it only costs $2. But when you leave the MetroRail at the stop closest to the port, you still have almost three miles to tug your luggage to the Epic’s dock. Between the MetroRail station and the dock are several blocks of horrific homeless encampments. There’s also a huge, long, steep freeway bridge I call “Heartbreak Hill”. Pay $15 for a shuttle.
5. If you will be drinking wine onboard, the Epic’s 22 restaurants offer an extensive selection of wine. But the markup is about 300 percent over what you might pay for the same bottles in a wine store. (In NCL’s defense, this is about the same markup any restaurant on land might charge.) NCL also lets passengers bring their own wine onboard, but they charge a $15 “corkage” fee per bottle (to be paid before boarding). You might consider bringing a couple of 1.75-liter magnum-sized bottles, because they are $15 each – just the same as 750 ml bottles. (So two 1.75s are nearly as much as five 750 ml bottles, but the corkage fee is $30 for the bigger bottles and $75 for the smaller ones.) I don’t know if this works for gallons! (But boxed wines are not allowed. Neither is hard liquor. Beer? $5.50 a bottle, or about $30 for a 6-pack, onboard.)
6. Bottled water costs about $4 per liter onboard. And it is only Aquafina – purified tap water, not spring water. NCL will let you bring your own water onboard; so bring a case of your favorite water.
7. NCL serves Pepsi products onboard. Like most cruise lines, sodas cost extra (there are “soda packages” available for the duration of the cruise). If you like Coke, or some other non-alcoholic beverage, you can bring your own onboard for no charge.
8. Bring your own reading material. The Epic’s library is a bit short on books. Nowadays, most people bring their own Kindles, Nooks, iPads, etc. with their reading choices pre-loaded. If you do bring a book, and you finish it, consider leaving it off in the lending library on Deck 7 for another passenger to enjoy. (While on the subject of tablets, laptops, and other electronic devices, pre-load your movies, shows, games, etc.; there’s very little offered of this kind of entertainment onboard.)
9. Bring your own snacks, gum and candy (if you think the mountains of food onboard, available 24 hours a day will not be enough for you). There doesn’t seem to be a convenience store for these items onboard. The rooms are equipped with a coffeemaker, so you can also bring your own coffee.
10. The Epic has 22 restaurants onboard, I’m told. It seems like more! Many of the eateries are free. But there are several that are up-sells for an additional $15 to $30 per person. All the specialty restaurants are quite good, and you will likely enjoy the food. Cagney’s Chicago steakhouse has particularly good steaks; the Moderno churrascaria offers 45 kinds of meat. But the one thing to know about Epic: Regardless of what restaurant you choose (this includes the free ones, as well as the ones that charge extra), the food onboard Epic is the best I’ve ever tasted on a cruise ship.
That’s about it, but here’s a bonus tip: Try to stay off the onboard internet service. At up to 40 cents a minute, it’s excessively expensive. It’s also very slow, which exacerbates the cost exponentially. To file this blog item, it took me at least four times as long as it should have.
April 30, 2013