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Epic Southern Caribbean Roundtrip from San Juan (Feb 6th - 16th 2020) cruise review


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Look like we can finally begin to take a cruise again. I think I'll jump start the enthusiasm (not that we need it here ūüėĄ) by posting a review of the¬†Southern Caribbean cruise I did last year.¬†

 

 

Background

 

My journey started with Alaska cruise on Norwegian Pearl back in 2014. Since then I've been cruising exclusively with NCL and this would be my 6th cruise with them. I wouldn't call myself an NCL loyalist but when I compare the price and itinerary with other cruise lines NCL seems to be the best overall, especially for solo cruiser. 

 

I have always wanted to try the Southern Caribbean cruise for a long time. For me, I feel like it's the "real Caribbean cruise". But the cost tends to be much more expensive than Western or Eastern. I was glad that NCL brought Epic to Southern Caribbean cruise. With Studio room option, it makes the cruise more affordable for solo cruiser. Initially, I was planning on March 22nd cruise since it included Willemstad. Luckily I changed to February cruise since not long after I got back the pandemic hit hard and the March cruises were cancelled. 

 

This is my first time writing a cruise review. So it may go a little slow. Hopefully all the pictures will show up. 

 

 

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Day 0 - Feb 5th 2020

 

I flew in a day earlier. It's a very long flight from the West Coast with connection at Miami. 

 

Miami airport has a branch of both two iconic Cuban restaurants -- Versailles and La Carreta. The guava pastry and Cortadito from Versailles are pretty good. Cortadito is a Cuban version of espresso with milk and sugar. La Carreta has hot food with sit-down dining. I usually stop by for a meal if I have a long connection time.

 

The flight arrived San Juan at almost midnight. Took Uber from airport and finally got to the hotel in Old San Juan around 1am. I got up at 4am so by this time I was totally exhausted.  

 

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Day 1 - Feb 6th 2020 (1)

 

I picked this hotel due to its cheap price. At that time, hotels in Old San Juan are either sold out or crazy expensive. While the hotel itself is probably rated 1-star, the location is great, right next to Plaza de Armas. It's kind of in the middle of Old San Juan that you could walk around to many nearby attraction. 

 

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Day 1 - Feb 6th 2020 (2)

 

I walked from Plaza de Armas to the famed Cafetería Mallorca for their famous Mallorca bread. You can get it plain or in my case with ham and cheese. It's served warm with a crispy outside and soft inside. This place is a must if you visit San Juan. 

 

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Day 1 - Feb 6th 2020 (4)

 

The cruise didn't debark until 9pm so I've the full day to explore the Old San Juan. Today weather was perfect. Warm weather with clear blue sky. The first place on my list is Castillo San Felipe del Morro. It's about 15-min walk from  Plaza de Armas. 

 

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Day 1 - Feb 6th 2020 (6)

 

Santa María Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery

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Plaza del Quinto Centenario. This is the highest point of Old San Juan. The monument was built in 1992 to honor the 500-year anniversary of Columbus' first voyage to the Americas

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Calle de la Fortaleza. I read that this was called Umbrella street with hundreds of colorful umbrella hanging on the top. At the time, they replaced the umbrellas with Puerto Rican flag. 

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Plaza de Colón

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Antiguo Casino de Puerto Rico

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Plaza in front of San Juan Cathedral 

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Day 1 - Feb 6th 2020 (7)

 

Paseo de la Princesa

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Paseo del Morro promenade on the way to San Juan Gate 

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San Juan Gate

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Casa Rosa

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I think now was around 4pm. I didn't have anything since the breakfast at Mallorca. I decided to grab some quick snack before heading to the port. Mofongo - a classic San Juan dish made from mashed plantains. Personally, I don't like it. The texture is a little rough and very plain taste. 

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It's already 9 posts and I didn't even get to the ship yet. This 10-day cruise review would take a while¬†¬†ūüėÖ¬†

 

 

 

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We were scheduled to sail on the Epic last March but as we all know everything stopped, so after numerous rebookings we are on a B2B in January out of San Juan. We are staying 2 nights in Old San Juan before we sail as we are coming from Boston and who knows what could happen with our weather. Look forward to reading your review as we want to explore the Old San Juan area. 

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10 hours ago, dhanakorn said:

Look like we can finally begin to take a cruise again. I think I'll jump start the enthusiasm (not that we need it here ūüėĄ) by posting a review of the¬†Southern Caribbean cruise I did last year.¬†

 

 

Background

 

My journey started with Alaska cruise on Norwegian Pearl back in 2014. Since then I've been cruising exclusively with NCL and this would be my 6th cruise with them. I wouldn't call myself an NCL loyalist but when I compare the price and itinerary with other cruise lines NCL seems to be the best overall, especially for solo cruiser. 

 

I have always wanted to try the Southern Caribbean cruise for a long time. For me, I feel like it's the "real Caribbean cruise". But the cost tends to be much more expensive than Western or Eastern. I was glad that NCL brought Epic to Southern Caribbean cruise. With Studio room option, it makes the cruise more affordable for solo cruiser. Initially, I was planning on March 22nd cruise since it included Willemstad. Luckily I changed to February cruise since not long after I got back the pandemic hit hard and the March cruises were cancelled. 

 

This is my first time writing a cruise review. So it may go a little slow. Hopefully all the pictures will show up. 

 

 

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I can't wait to read your review.  I was on this cruise also.  First NCL cruise.  It was excellent.

 

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We love your pictures of Old San Juan.  It's been awhile for us, but your pictures bring back good memories.   

 

Looking forward to the rest of your review as we plan to sail to the ABC islands in Januaryūüėé

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Hi all

 

dhanakorn ~ looking forward to more of your review & loving the pictures. I too was on this cruise, my last before the pandemic & am so glad I was. It was a lovely trip. Thanks for reviewing it.

 

~ Jo ~ ūüėä

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Day 1 - Feb 6th 2020 (8)

 

NCL uses Pan-American Pier which a few minutes drive from Old San Juan area. I think I paid less than $10 on Uber. I read from earlier reviews that the traffic to the port could be very heavy with thousands of passengers trying to get in and out on one road. But around 5pm, there was no traffic.

 

I think the Pier has 2 entrances -- one side for new passengers and another side for returning. Uber dropped me off on the returning side so there's no porter to collect my luggage. Check-in was smooth with no line during this time. I decided to carry my own luggage to my room so I didn't have to wait for the delivery. It's good to wait the room ready by the time I board, rather waiting at the buffer for the 2pm announcement. 

 

This is my 2nd time on Epic and 4th time in the studio room so I'm quite familiar with the tiny space. There's some wear and tear but overall the room still looks relatively new. I think the storage space is adequate. I didn't even use the right-side closet (there's a small safe inside if you need).  

 

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Day 1 - Feb 6th 2020 (9)

 

After putting my stuffs in the room, I went up to the pool deck to see the view.  Pan-American Pier is in an industrial area so there's not much to see from the ship.

 

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The bridge viewing area

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The rock climbing. It's rarely open so I never got to try it.

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Day 1 - Feb 6th 2020 (10)

 

This was the smallest sail-away party I've ever been. They did the sail-away at Spice H2O, rather than the main pool area. Very few people showed up. This's one drawback of late departure, you don't get a big party like 5pm-departure cruise. 

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After than I went to have dinner at the buffet. I'm not a big fan of main dining room. I did that on the first couple cruises and over the year the food quality deteriorated and the service was extremely slow. NCL buffet is usually decent but on this cruise there's virtually no seafood at all.  

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After dinner, I went back to watch some movies at Spice H2O as the ship started to sail away from San Juan (it's already dark so you don't get to see the ship sailed past El Morro.)

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This concludes my Day 1. It was a long day exploring Old San Juan but finally I was onboard now. 

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Day 2 [At Sea] - Feb 7th 2020

 

After 2 hectic days, today is a sea day so I can finally rest and relax. I spent most of my day on the sun deck. This public area on deck 18 is kind-of a hidden place (maybe not to anyone on this board). Only starboard-side elevator will bring you to deck 18. This area is big with a lot of lounge chairs and is virtually empty all the time. So if you want to get away from the noise around the main pool, this is the perfect place. It's not open all the time though. I think around 5-6pm the crews start to stack up the chairs and clean the area.

 

You get a nice view of the pool deck after you step out of the elevator. 

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Day 3 [Kralendijk ] - Feb 8th 2020 (1)

 

Today we reached Bonaire (the B island of the famous ABC). During my pre-trip research, most people on this board say that Bonaire is famous for snorkeling. So this is what I'm planning to do today.

 

Speaking of excursions, booking a Studio room gives you only one choice of Free-At-Sea. I think most people would choose the Beverage package. But on 10-day cruise, the 20% upcharge fee is around $200. I don't drink a lot and I probably spend less than that on the drinks. So I pick the $50 excursion credit instead. This is $50 credit per port per stateroom -- on this 8-port cruise it's worth up to $400 credit. On this trip, I booked NCL excursion on every port which turns out to be quite a good deal. 

 

NCL has a couple snorkeling excursions for Bonaire. I booked the Double Dip Snorkel Trip because of the cute swimming turtle picture on the booking page. 

 

We boarded a small boat right from the pier then sailed to Klein Bonaire. From there they gave you snorkel gears and some entertaining instruction. They stopped by 2 snorkel sites around Klein Bonaire and I think you can spend 30-45 minutes on each site. After reading hundreds of reviews about how great the snorkel at Bonaire is, I have very high hope. In my mind, I imagine the colorful coral reefs with plenty of fish like what you see on Finding Nemo movie. In reality, the corals looked brownish. I'm not sure if they are dead or not There're some fish but not very impressive and there was no turtle! I was told that this is what it is on Caribbean sea. If I want to see something more colorful, I need to go to Australia. Overall, it was an OK excursion, my expectation was just too high. 

 

The excursion was around 3 hours and we got back to the pier around noon. 

 

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Day 3 [Kralendijk ] - Feb 8th 2020 (2)

 

After the snorkel excursion, I went back to the ship for lunch and clean up myself. The all-board time is at 4:30 so I have a few hours to explore the town in the afternoon.

 

The fun fact on the Daily says Bonaire's airport is called Flamingo Airport because the island is home to over 10,000 of the pink birds. This sculpture is probably the closet to flamingo I've seen on the island.

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The water near the pier is super clear!

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The main shopping street is very colorful. I bought "homemade" bandana headband from one of the shops there. 

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They even have a chinese restaurant there!

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And the supermarket there stocks up with all the asian condiments! 

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Day 3 [Kralendijk ] - Feb 8th 2020 (3)

 

I don't know why someone say Epic is such an ugly ship. I think she looks quite nice. 

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The town is very small and there're not many things to see around the pier. So I went back to spend the rest of the afternoon on the Sun Deck.

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I think that small island is Klein Bonaire where we went for snorkeling earlier in the morning.

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View of the town from Sun Deck. 

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Tonight entertainment is Jose Figueroa's "For the love of music". I forgot to mention that Day 2 show is Burn The Floor. I've seen this show too many times so not very exciting for me. 

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Day 4 [Oranjestad] - Feb 9th 2020 (1)

 

Today we reached Aruba (the A island of the famous ABC islands). Unfortunately, this cruise didn't call Willemstad, so I missed the C island of Curaçao.

 

There're 3 mega ships at the port today. 

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For the excursion, I booked "Antilla Wreck Snorkel & Beach Getaway". The 3-hour tour combines catamaran sail, snorkeling at the Antilla shipwreck, and beach time with lounge chair at the Palm Beach.

 

There's a trolley from Epic (which's docked at all the way at the end of the pier) to the marina to board a catamaran. 

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The tour is quite popular. There're 3 catamarans on this tour. 

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We exit the marina and sail around the docked ships.

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The catamaran sail was nice but snorkeling around the Antilla shipwreck, a German WWII freighter, wasn't interesting. You can barely see anything down there. I think the crew also told some story about how it sunk but I didn't pay attention. The water was also a little rough so it's hard to get back on the catamaran.

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Day 4 [Oranjestad] - Feb 9th 2020 (2)

 

After about an hour snorkeling at Antilla shipwreck, we had a short sail to Palm Beach. 

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The catamaran docked at a small pier. From there you can get a lounge chair and relax on the beach in front of the pier. I think they give you around 45min here. 

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You also have an option to stay here for the rest of the day but you will need to find a way to get back to the ship on your own. I think it was around noon at this point. I decided to stay here and explore the beach. I've heard a lot of about how beautiful Palm Beach is and since I was already there so might as well spent some time here. The pier where the catamaran docked is near Hilton hotel. I walked all the way from there to the northern end of the beach near the Ritz-Carlton. Palm Beach is beautiful but I probably won't fly all the way for a vacation here. I think you get similar experience for half the price in Mexico.

 

I took the local bus back to the port. There's a bus stop in front of Hilton hotel. I think the fare was around $5-$10 and took around 20-30min. 

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Day 4 [Oranjestad] - Feb 9th 2020 (3)

 

I got back to the pier around 5pm. The all aboard time is at 7pm so I still have a couple hours to explore the non-tourist part of Oranjestad.

 

The bus terminal is closed to the Royal Plaza shopping mall.

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The marina where we boarded the catamaran in the morning.

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Nice colorful buildings.

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I followed the smell and found this place.

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Thanks for sharing this review. I think we were the last cruise on this itinerary on the Epic before things shut down on March 1st, 2020. Looking forward to going again next January, 2022. 

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