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Epic So. Caribbean trip report Jan 26-Feb 6 lots of photos


mimmy52
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My brother, sister, and their spouses frequently cruise together, but the timing never worked out for me to join them until last year when my brother said he and his wife had booked a cruise of the Southern Caribbean embarking January 26, 2020.  January--a great time to leave a St. Louis winter.  Then my sister and her husband signed up for it too, so I decided to find out just how good a time they've been having.  The itinerary:

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Since they were booked on the Epic, that meant I could choose a studio cabin.  The rooms looked inviting enough in photos and having the studio lounge was a bonus and meant I'd have a place to sit comfortably to update my travel journal.  It was $500 cheaper than an inside cabin would have cost me, and it came with one perk.  I think it goes without saying that I picked the Premium Beverage Package, which turned out to be not quite so free once I'd paid the gratuity.

 

This was my fourth ocean cruise, the most recent being in October 2019 sailing the Western Mediterranean on the MSC Poesia with five girlfriends.  I also cruised Alaska on Princess and the Greek Islands with what was then called Louis Cruises.

 

My favorite trip reports start at the very beginning, are detailed, and have lots of photos.  That's how this will be (just a warning to those who like brevity).  Also, for ease in typing and to allow them to keep their secret identities, I will refer to my brother as Bro, my sister-in-law as Sil, my sister as Sis, and my brother-in-law as Bil.  Sometimes I will refer to them collectively as The Four.

 

My husband stayed home.  He doesn't travel.  His job was to take care of these two:

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Wilkie is the black cat (he said it was okay to use his real name).  He's 13 and has a heart murmur, so my husband would be attempting to give him medication while I was gone.  Cheezit (sometimes he prefers his rapper name, Li'l Cheez) is three and likes to pull plants out of their pots.

 

Our plans were to arrive in San Juan a day early.  I live about 20 minutes from the airport, but The Four aren't as close and planned to stay at the Marriott St. Louis Airport Hotel on Friday night, the night before leaving for San Juan.  After I watched Wednesday night's weather forecast, I became very concerned.  Snow on Friday with the possibility of snow all through Friday night.  The picture in my head of my husband struggling through piles of snow to get me to the airport early Saturday morning had me making my own reservation at the Marriott.  BTW, it snowed Thursday.

 

The day before the day before the cruise (January 24)

Friday afternoon came and I was very excited about the trip.  My suitcases were packed and waiting at the door.

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Husband drove me to the Marriott which is basically across the highway from the airport entrance.  The snow from yesterday was gone, and no snow, no ice, not even rain today, but the hotel reservation was nonrefundable.  I checked in right after a basketball team and shared the elevator with a bunch of 7' tall young men.  I'm only 5'2". It felt strange. 

My room was a standard Marriott, clean and comfortable.

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I texted Bro and Sil that I was in my room and got a return text that they were almost there.  We met in the lobby about 3:00 and got hot chocolate from The Market in the lobby.

 

The lobby. The bar is to the left.

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The Market which had a lot of good snacks

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Sis and Bil arrived about 4:00 and joined us after they'd put their luggage in their room.  We were all excited about the trip and couldn't stop talking.  Around 5:30 we switched to wine and a little later had dinner, and more wine, at the hotel restaurant.

 

The restaurant has the inspired name of "The Restaurant"

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We had one last drink in the lobby bar, then time for bed so we could catch a 5:20 am shuttle to the airport.

 

 

 

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The day before the cruise (January 25)

It was COLD when we stepped outside the hotel for the early shuttle, but we were quickly at the airport and through security (Bro, Sil, and I had pre-check).  We had breakfast at the airport.  It's interesting the things people do on planes without thinking.  Most of the plane had boarded when a guy came along in search of an open space for his suitcase.  He squeezed his Starbucks coffee between two suitcases in the open overhead bin across from me, then continued his search for space.  A flight attendant came along and shut the bin.  Several of us called out about the coffee and she quickly opened it again and took out the cup.  The guy hurried to rescue his coffee and the flight attendant got some paper towels to wipe up what appeared to be a fairly small spill considering.

 

Our connection was in Charlotte, NC.  We landed in B concourse, walked to D using the moving walkways.  I always like the mobiles in one of the main areas of that airport.

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We had only about a ten minute wait before boarding.  We were given pretzels and soda and we could buy snacks, but the cart on my side was out of sandwiches and the only time I bought cheese on a plane, it didn't taste at all like cheese.  There were so many kids on this flight!  Impossible not to notice.  When we landed, there were at least 15 wheelchairs waiting.  I guess the kids and their families were headed to the Disney Wonder and the oldsters for the NCL Epic.

 

Bil had chosen the hotel for our night in San Juan, the San Juan Airport Hotel.  He liked that you could walk there without leaving the airport.  After we collected our baggage, we were lost as to how to find the hotel and when we asked were told we had to go outside.  We followed directions--up to the next level, outside and to the right.  We saw no signage.  We weren't certain we were going the right way until we did come across a sign at the entrance.  When we walked through the door, we weren't in a hotel lobby but in what appeared to be an empty terminal.  But once we turned the corner, there was the entrance to the hotel.

 

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The reception desk

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Another part of the lobby

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My room was bare bones.

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It had everything I needed, though, even some stuff I didn't.  There was a refrigerator, safe, microwave, ironing board and iron, and ice bucket in the closet.  

 

The bathroom was nice.  It had a magnifying mirror although I had to stand on my toes to use it.

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After missing lunch, we were ready to eat!  Bro, Sil, and I were in the hotel restaurant shortly after leaving our luggage in our rooms.

Entrance to the restaurant

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We were seated in a separate room

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After waiting a while for Sis and Bil, we finally decided to order.  It took about 45 minutes to get our food and we were just starting to eat when they arrived.  They'd flown first class and were served a meal so weren't as hungry as we were.  I had a cheese quesadilla and fries and neglected to take a picture.

 

Bil said there was a great area on the third floor, a terrace that had a wrap-around couch, lounge chairs, and hot tubs.  Sis and Bil ordered a bottle of Merlot to drink on the terrace and Sil and I shared a bottle of Pinot Grigio.  The terrace was nice.  A couple had already laid claim to the big couch area so we sat at a table, drank our wine, and talked.

A view from the terrace

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Another view, this time toward the entrance from the hotel to the terrace

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Later it started to rain a little so we finished our wine and called it a night.  No need to set our alarms since we're not supposed to report to the cruise terminal until 1:00.

 

 

 

 

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I have greatly enjoyed my cruises on the Epic, all out of Miami, Orlando and Barcelona.  Your husband "doesn't travel?"  Assuming this does not result from a medical impairment, you stay married to this guy because....?

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1 hour ago, FLAHAM said:

I have greatly enjoyed my cruises on the Epic, all out of Miami, Orlando and Barcelona.  Your husband "doesn't travel?"  Assuming this does not result from a medical impairment, you stay married to this guy because....?

I know!  How can anyone not like to travel?

 

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Embarkation day (Sunday, January 26)

 

Our hotel in San Juan had an included breakfast that had an omelette station, warm pancakes and bacon among other dishes.

The breakfast room

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A view from my window to the left.  The slatted area is the terrace we were on last night.

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My view to the right.  We are definitely in the airport.

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With plenty of time, I decided to walk the corridor in front of the hotel to see if it was possible to get to the terminal without venturing outside.  It seemed eerily deserted.  Since this area looked like an old baggage claim, it must have been an important terminal at one time.

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I found I could get to the terminal without going outside.  In fact, when we took the elevator up to the second level yesterday, if we had turned to the right instead of the left, we would have seen this sign.

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These are the outside doors we came through yesterday.

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A little later this morning, there were more arrivals.

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I checked out some of the features of the hotel.  The game room.

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The exercise room.  Both were in a corridor with guest rooms.

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On the first floor I ran into this guy.

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He was in a room with all kinds of exercise equipment.  I'd seen a sign about the hotel being renovated, so maybe they intend to make this into a nice exercise room.

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The Four were not into exploring San Juan having been there before.  We gathered on the terrace for a while instead.  

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It had apparently rained quite a bit last night since the artificial grass was soggy and the couches and chairs were still wet.  We sat at the bar where it was dry.  It was so nice to sit in the sun knowing how cold and gloomy it was at home.

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About 11:30, Sis and Bil decided to go to the port.  Bro, Sil, and I had lunch at the hotel restaurant before we left, about 12:30 if I recall correctly.  The reception clerk called a cab for us.

 

 

 

Edited by mimmy52
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Our cab driver supplied us with a little San Juan commentary on the way to the port.  It was exciting to catch that first glimpse of the ship!  We arrived at the port about 1:00.  Although there were cabs dropping people off, there was no congestion.  While we still had been at the hotel, Bil had texted that they arrived at the ship about noon and had no problem embarking, so it seems that passengers were paying attention to the embarkation times they were given (although mine was officially 2:30).  We handed over our luggage to the porters.  Mine actually said he expected a tip!  That made me want to withhold it, but I wouldn't have trusted him with my suitcase if I didn't hand over some cash.

 

The terminal was large but as others have said, no place to sit, although I think we passed through an area with shops and seating before we got to the large warehouse room with check in counters.  There was no line and we finished quickly.  I noticed on the health form there were two questions about the coronavirus.

 

Rooms weren't ready, so we headed to O'Sheehan's.  

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Time for a beer.

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Bro and Sil each ordered a spinach and artichoke dip.  I've tried spinach dips before and haven't liked them, but when I tried a taste of theirs--OMG!  It was delicious!  I was so happy they were sharing. The picture is taken from a few days later when I had one all to myself. My mouth is watering now just thinking about it.  

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It wasn't long before our rooms were ready.  I was eager to see my studio cabin.

The bed was big. The shutters on the round porthole open to the corridor, but you can't see out and no one can see in.  When I took these pictures, I hadn't yet found the light switch for the colorful lights.

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When the doors to the studio cabins are opened, this is the first thing you see.

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Next to it is the shower.

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Across from the shower, the toilet.

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On the other side of the basin is a closet.  If I made any suggestion to NCL about the cabin, it would be to give studio cabins regular hangars, ones you could lift out easily.  With these type of hangars, if you take a garment out from the back and then want to re-hang it, you're trying to get the hanger back in its little hook with the rest of your hanging clothes in the way.

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In between two closets is the TV, shelf (too small to be called a desk), and stool.  The lid on the stool comes off for storage but I never put anything in it.  I was afraid I would forget and leave something in there.  I never used it for sitting either because the space between bed and stool wasn't adequate for that.

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The other closet houses the safe.

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Forgot to put these in earlier.  The bowling alley is at the back of O'Sheehan's.

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Edited by mimmy52
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Enjoying your review and pictures...I am one of those that loved the Epic, sailed on her twice.  Although we are not doing this exact itinerary we will be stopping in some of these ports on our Gem cruise next spring.

Oh and the spinach dip and reuben are my favorites!

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16 hours ago, mrsfuzzmo said:

Thanks for this!  We head to the EPIC this weekend, and I have friends staying here at the Airport Hotel after a late arrival.  Looks decent.

I think your friends will be happy with the San Juan Airport Hotel.  One thing about the room being so spartan--you could tell how clean it was.

 

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Embarkation Day continued

 

When we left O'Sheehan's, we had decided that after I unpacked my carryon I would go to their room.  All of us are on deck 12.  Bro and Sil had a balcony (as did Sis and Bil).  Some views of San Juan from their balcony. Sail away was set for 9:00 pm.

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Bro and Sil have been on the Epic before maybe 3 or 4 years ago so Bro showed me around the ship while Sil unpacked. The pool area was still quiet.  Those are sure some small pools considering the number of passengers on this ship.

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He pointed out these two towers and said one had an elevator that was exclusive to Haven but the other we could use.

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There were only two decks available on the elevator, deck 15 where the pools are and deck 18 which is the quiet zone. A view from deck 18

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There's a small airport near the port.

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Bro showed me the stairs to deck 19.  When he was on the Epic before, passengers could use deck 19 for altogether sunbathing.  Maybe they found that to be too risque.

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After walking through a large area with lounge chairs similar to those on the pool deck, we came to this lovely sight.  It looked like a great place to find a shady spot to read.  Never again was it so deserted though.

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One last picture from deck 18 taken from the area by the padded loungers.

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After showing Bro and Sil my cabin, I unpacked.  Then it was 5:00 and time for Muster Drill.  My station was in Maltings.  It was kind of a madhouse.

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I couldn't see the life vest demonstration but fortunately all procedures were announced over the PA system by the cruise director. Surely on a ship this size there are better venues.

 

I had signed up for the Cruise Critic Meet and Greet which was being held in the Cavern Club at 6:00.  We'd all been surprised at the timing since most M&G's were at 11:00 am on the first sea day.  There were already quite a few people there when I arrived.

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I didn't see any Epic crew, nor were there any snacks.  There seemed to be a lot of people from Facebook instead of Cruise Critic.  The person originally taking care of the M&G had to cancel his cruise, so we were welcomed by two ladies who had taken over.  They said they were trying to locate an NCL person to find out why there were no representatives at the M&G.  I was lucky enough to sit next to Chelsea from CC.  She had signed up for the gift exchange.  Since I hadn't signed up for it, I asked if I could see her gift and when she showed it to me, I recognized her from the roll call because she'd posted about finding the gift.  She really put some thought into it.  A guy next to her had a hole punch and he punched my key card for the lanyard Sil had given me.

 

So we waited and nothing was happening.  People started leaving.  Chelsea finally said she was leaving and she debated whether to take her own gift back or to take one of the others.  I don't know what she decided but she did have a gift when she left.  One person who really had his act together was the guy in charge of the slot pull.  His voice carried and he made certain that those interested in it should sign up with him.

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I knew The Four were having pre-dinner drinks so I was getting antsy with nothing happening.  It probably would have been fine if I'd been more involved with the roll call or maybe better if I'd joined the group on Facebook.  I finally asked one of the volunteer ladies what was going on.  She said Norwegian messed up.  When the other lady sent the email to notify them of the M&G, NCL thought it was just a meeting and didn't realize it was the CC M&G.  She said they were trying to round up some snacks, maybe some cookies, to be brought in.  I decided to leave.  I'd really like to know, though, if things ever got going after I left.

 

I met up with The Four at Shaker's Martini Bar where they were having a good ole time talking with four other passengers.  I had more fun than at the M&G.  After our drink we went to Taste and were seated in the back.

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We ordered wine and I had the Classic Caesar salad as my appetizer.  It was on the menu every night.  My entree was Broiled Boston Bluefish that came with mashed potatoes and portobello mushrooms.  It was good.  I seldom remember to take a food picture before I've started eating.

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I had chocolate ice cream for dessert but everyone knows what that looks like, so I took a picture of the cherries jubilee

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and the warm apple strudel

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Sis and Bil went to their cabin after dinner.  Bro and Sil invited me to their balcony to watch sail away.  We stopped at the Atrium Bar along the way for another glass of wine.  I had a great time watching sail away from their balcony.  We stood at the rail for quite a while and saw the pilot leap onto the pilot boat.  I had planned to stay until the lights of Puerto Rico disappeared into darkness, but they just kept on and on so I finally left before I overstayed my welcome.

 

 

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Monday, January 27, Sea Day

 

Heavenly to sleep this morning without an alarm (or cats) waking me up, although what is late for me is early for a lot of other people.  I had breakfast in the Garden Cafe buffet.  I thought the cafe area was really nice.  The sun was shining through the windows, and it was a beautiful day.

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There is a spot in the Garden Cafe where you can look down on LaCucina and you can carry your food down and eat there too if you have trouble finding a place in the buffet area.

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After I ate I took a tour of the ship trying to get oriented and taking pictures, of course.  I wish I'd realized I had my camera set to mark the date.  I'd rather not have that on my pictures.  First stop was the Studio Lounge.  I hadn't been in it yesterday.  I'm on deck 12 and the lounge is on deck 11 but there's a walkway across it on 12 and naturally stairs to 11.  A look from the walkway on one side

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and the other.  You can see the stair bannisters in the left hand corner.  Whoever came up with the idea of a lounge for solo travelers is brilliant.  Or else they traveled solo a lot and knew what was missing.

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The solo travelers host for the lounge was named Patricia.  The information on the board was from embarkation day, but it had suggestions for things the solo travelers could do together that night.

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The sign on the bar said it was open from 5 to 7 pm.  There is cereal available and milk.  There was an attendant in the lounge that morning, and he seemed to be there most mornings that I noticed.

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Other areas of the lounge.

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  There are games on the shelves in this areaDSC06021c.thumb.jpg.b16227ef0d1f6009d38a68fbead0ea13.jpg

 

As I leave, a picture of the entrance.  Or in my case, exit.

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Outside in the beautiful sunshine in the Great Outdoors.

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One pool has business.

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Water miniature golf

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A nice area for lounging.  Every time I passed it after this, it was full.

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The pool in Spice H2O is really small.

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A shot from the Spice balcony

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The climbing wall

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A lounging area on the starboard side under the slides

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January 27, Sea Day continued

 

Continuing my photo tour, I went back inside.  The chandelier over Taste.

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On deck 7, the Ice Bar.  In the evening they put out a rack of coats but I didn't get a picture of them.  They were hooded capes of a quilted material and didn't look very warm, although they gave you gloves too.  I was told it was $20 and you could have two drinks.

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Next to the Ice Bar, Shaker's

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Across from Shaker's, Wasabi Sushi Bar and Teppanyaki

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One section of Maltings Whiskey Bar

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Looking down to the casino on deck six

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Looking down on the Cascades Bar

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On deck six at the Cascades Bar

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Looking up at the ceiling.  I liked the impression of stars.

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On deck 6, the Cavern Club where the Meet & Greet was held last night.

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Back at O'Sheehan's

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From O'Sheehan's, you can look down to deck 5 and the Atrium where at this time some Burn the Floor dancers were giving a lesson.

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Headliners Comedy Club

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There's an escalator on deck 6 that takes you to deck 5.  The various customer relations areas.

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When I passed by the Atrium, it was getting set up for a sushi demo

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The photography studio

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The card room

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I could kill two birds with one stone by going into the library.

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It's quiet on this end

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Everyone is in the internet cafe area.  There are four computers.  One for every 1,000 passengers. The computers are at the far end but it was too crowded to get closer.

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My room was being cleaned when I went back, so I went to the Studio Lounge to wait.  In the morning they offered orange juice, tea and water in addition to everything the coffee maker did.  I'm not a coffee drinker.

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There are pastries.  The attendant was just moving them away.

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In its place were cookies.

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My view as I waited.

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When I got back to my room, I had a message from Bro and Sil that they were at Spice H2O.  I joined them there.  They had a good table for two with an umbrella right at the rail overlooking the sunny lounging areas.  I looked around for a spare chair.  There were chairs that I thought of as spare, but people were using them for their feet.  Huh.  Others were empty but awaiting a husband/wife/companion.  I finally got one of the tall chairs and dragged it over.  My view

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I had a Diet Pepsi (oh how I wished this was a Coke products ship).  When they started putting out a small buffet at the bar, I had some fries.  After a while, Bro suggested we go to the Great Outdoors to see if Sis and Bil were there.  They were, at a table for two but we found a bigger table in the shade.  We got food from the buffet.  I had some spaghetti and pizza.  I was disappointed in the pizza.  The pizza on MSC had been outstanding.

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We passed a lot of the afternoon here and talked about playing Left Right Center.  After a while everyone was getting hot so we decided to go to Maltings and play the game there.  We never did play.  We ordered drinks and they filled the small table so we just kept talking.  When we got tired, we all went back to our rooms.  I read for a while, then went to the 5:30 solo meet up in the Studio Lounge.  The lounge was buzzing with activity and host Patricia was there.  The Four had gotten specialty restaurants as one of their perks, and I had told them not to worry about me but to use their privileges and I could eat with the solo group.  Bro and Sil never took advantage of their specialty restaurant perk.  Bro said the MDRs had food that was just as good, but I think he and Sil wanted to make certain I always had someone to dine with. Tonight the solo group was eating in the Manhattan Room.  Patricia said that meant long pants and no sneakers or flip flops.

 

We were planning to eat in the Manhattan Room too but first we had a drink at the Cascades Bar.  I didn't see that there was anything special about the decor of Manhattan, nothing that made it more outstanding than Taste.  And the menu is the same.

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I had smoked mozzarella ravioli for a starter.  It was on the menu every night and it was very good.

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My entree was baked walleye codfish with carrots and spinach mashed potatoes.  It was also very good. Artistic too.

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Cheesecake (no sugar added) with a scoop of ice cream for dessert. I love cheesecake.  It was delicious.  If the menu hadn't stated no sugar added, I would never have known.

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After dinner, we got in line at Headliners Comedy Club.  The doors opened at 8:20 for the 9:00 show.  

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There was plenty of room.  We were a few rows back.  In this area there weren't many tables.

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The comedian, Jorge Marroquin, was funny and I enjoyed the show.  After that it was bed time.  When I got back to my room, a stranger's key card was cattywampus in my light slot.  I stepped outside and looked around for a steward.  Didn't see one but two Australian ladies came along and asked if I was lost too.  They couldn't remember their room numbers.  I let them into my room so they could call guest services and ask.  I heard the one on the phone say, "Our room is 12529."  I hurried and said, "No, no!  That's my room number!"  I thought it pretty funny the operator thought I was calling from my room asking what my room number was.  But then after more spelling of names, they got their room numbers and I wrote it down for them.  Then it was bed time so I'd be fresh for Aruba in the morning.

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Loving this review.  For those that have never sailed Epic but have sailed Breakaway class ships....look at these photos.   Check out that La Cucina, Taste, and Spice H20.   So much better and elegant than the later ships (let alone the gym, spa, and Bliss lounge).  Good gosh a REAL pool and tiered seating in Spice!!!!

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Great pictures...Makes me want to sail on the Epic again!  I have forgotten how much I loved this ship.

Sorry your M&G did not work out.  The ones I have attended have been great and it is nice to meet fellow cruise critics.

I agree with david_sobe with the comparison of the Epic to the newer ships.  Never could understand why some absolutely hate the Epic.

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Tuesday, January 28, Oranjestad, Aruba

 

The first thing I did every morning on the cruise, well, first thing I did after I opened my eyes and sat up, was turn the TV on to the "View from the Bridge."  It was still dark but shortly started getting lighter. I got dressed and went to the buffet for breakfast.  They have just about everything you could want, but I'm not a big breakfast person.  I guess if I ate meat that might be different.  I took my plate to the Great Outdoors and enjoyed the weather.

 

As we were pulling into Aruba, I went up to deck 16 to take some pictures.

Hello, Aruba!

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That looked like a nice beach

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We're docked and activity for excursions got underway.

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I had a shore excursion in every port, all through NCL.  I'm not comfortable enough with cruising to trust anything else.  I'd love to be able to do some of the excursions involving snorkeling, but I didn't think I had it in me any more.  Bil had made their excursions early on and Bro had made most of the same.  I had to wait a little longer to let my credit card ease up after my October cruise, and some of what they were doing was already sold out.  I was looking forward to being with The Four on a lot of the excursions.

 

My first excursion was Atlantis Submarine with Bro and Sil.  I ran into them at the elevator and walked off the ship with them.  We found our group and were given a boarding pass for the sub, then waited in the shade for our bus.  What a beautiful day!

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There were free shuttles to the shopping area.

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Our bus left at 9:00, drove a short way past the Royal Caribbean Explorer of the Seas, to a small open boat covered by a canopy.  First thing our guide Jason did was give us safety instructions.  Here he's talking about procedures in case of fire and we had to give him a thumbs up to acknowledge we understood.

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A couple of scenes along the way to the submarine

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Jason said they're hoping to get clearance at some point from the owner of this boat so it can be sunk and used for coral growth.

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Then we can see the submarine ahead of us.

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We transferred over to the sub and had to climb down a ladder.  There was bench seating on two sides with indentations where one's butt was supposed to fit.  "Supposed to" are the key words.  We were very chummy.  Cheek to cheek and back to back.

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There were portholes for viewing although they were shared portholes.  Jason continued his commentary during our trip under the sea, and he was a good guide, interesting and humorous.

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This tour in the sub was fascinating!  The pictures didn't turn out well especially since they don't show the colors I saw.  Schools of grey and blue fish, a yellow fish with a black band around its belly, a strange looking trumpet eel.  The schools of fish show up in my pictures, but not the colors.  And there was coral of all kinds and two sunken ships that are growing coral.

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One of the sunken ships came into view

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Coral had started forming.

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We actually went down to 132 ft. but this was the lowest I'd captured with my camera.

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Some of the coral formations looked like mushrooms

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Bubbles mean we're surfacing.

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We surfaced and as we climbed up the ladder to leave, the next group were climbing on board at the other end of the sub.  Here's a photo of one of the next group climbing down.

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We're back on the boat that will take us to the port.

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Headed back

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The Epic and the Explorer of the Seas

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When we got back to port, no bus was waiting to take us back to the ship.  We were told one would be coming, but after a while most started walking since it wasn't a great distance.  The free shuttle stop was near Explorer of the Seas and I took that back to the Epic.  I'd become separated from Bro and Sil at that point and they said they'd walked all the way back.  It was hot by then.  Not that I'm complaining.  I'll take it over winter any time.

 

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