By Paul Motter
After all of the introductory hoopla for Norwegian Epic it seems anticlimactic to say that the ship is now in regular service, but it is - sailing 7-day cruises from Miami to the Eastern and Western Caribbean. Somehow I feel as if this ship should be continuing its inaugural activities and just sail 7-day cruises to nowhere so you can experience all of the fun activities onboard.
In truth, my 7-day transatlantic cruise passed so quickly I can hardly imagine having enough time on a standard Caribbean cruise to enjoy the ports of call as well. This is a very active ship, especially for food and entertainment, and one could easily board the ship and never get off and still have a fantastic vacation.
But let's take a look at the 7-day offerings of Norwegian Epic:
Norwegian Epic sails out of Miami every Saturday. This week she is on her very first cruise, a Western Caribbean sailing. Next week (July 17) she will be on her Eastern Caribbean itinerary, and she will be alternating these itineraries every other week until next May (2011) when the ship will relocate to Barcelona, Spain.
That's right; you have only ten months to try this amazing ship before she leaves North America. Epic will be sailing out of Barcelona on a sun-soaked cruise to Florence, Rome and Naples, Italy and the decadent and exciting Spanish isle of Mallorca for at least six months.
Western Caribbean Cruise Highlights:
You can board Norwegian Epic in Miami on Saturdays. Embarkation begins about 12:00 noon and the ship sails rather early, 4:00 PM. Be sure to book your flights with plenty of time to get to the port and board the ship.
On the western itinerary your first day is at sea. There will be a modest captain's welcome aboard celebration, most likely with free drinks available in all the bars between 5:00 and 6:00 pm.
The next day the ship stops in Costa Maya, so named because it is close to several authentic Mayan ruins on the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. At least two shore excursions are available - a trip to the Chacchoben Mayan Ruins (4 hours duration) or a simple "Beach Getaway" (3 hours duration).
But when you think about it, you are already on a cruise ship with three amazing water slides, inviting swimming pools and all the food you can eat - why should you pay to go to a beach?
Day three Epic arrives at Roatan. Here you can enjoy fantastic snorkeling in crystal clear water, or indulge in a dolphin encounter; a six-hour tour costing $149 for adults and $139 for children. Or you can opt for a coach tour of Roatan and the Bay Islands with a narrated boat trip through the historic two-mile-long Dixon Cove Harbor with its keys, reefs and visible shipwrecks.
The next day you are at sea once again, but Thursday the ship lands at Cozumel, an island five miles off the coast of Mexico that is world-famous for scuba diving. There are many hotels and an eco-park called Chakanaab where you can snorkel and swim with the dolphins. There is also a tour to the Tulum Mayan ruins, that 7-hour excursion costs $89 for adults.
Eastern Caribbean Highlights:
Norwegian Epic sails from Miami at 4:00 p.m. and then spends two days at sea before docking at St. Martin. The ship lands on the Dutch side of the island, although there is also a French side. St. Martin is the smallest island under two different flags in the entire world. A shore tour of the entire island lasts a mere 2 ½ hours, or simply shop along the main street for textiles, rum, duty-free electronics and souvenirs.
Wednesday you are in St. Thomas. This is another shopping Mecca and you don't even have to leave the port area. Bit if you prefer a memorable opportunity to see the rich Caribbean sea life go to Coral World. The price is a mere $39 per adult and $29 for children. The park has an underwater walkway so you can see marine life in its natural habitat. There is also a nice beach nearby for swimming - no extra charge.
Thursday you are at sea. Be sure to try out the Brazilian Churrascaria or the Japanese restaurant Teppanyaki. There are 21 different eateries onboard.
Friday you dock in Nassau. I recommend taking a taxi or the ferry to the Atlantis Hotel on Paradise Island. Just walk around the grounds for the day - it is one of the most interesting island resorts in the entire world. Or you can treat your kids to the water park or dolphin encounter.
Norwegian Epic Caribbean Sailings
Do not fail to schedule your entertainment reservations for Blue Man Group and other shows online 45 days before your sail date. I highly recommend the Legends show they present in the Epic Theater. Don't miss Second City's hysterical comedy shows. Howlin' at the Moon is great for late night interactive musical fun or if you prefer to sit back and watch a master musician at work you can head for Fat Cats and catch the Slam Allen Blues Band playing the best blues at sea.
This first season cruise fares for Epic are still at a premium because it is a new ship, but you can get into an inside stateroom for as little as $679 per person, or a balcony as low as $979 on the September 25 sail date (Eastern Caribbean).
The Western Caribbean sailings appear to have more bargain dates available as early as September 4th. You can get an inside cabin for $679 or a studio stateroom (no singles supplement) for $1099.
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