This is a continuation of our week-long trip aboard the Norwegian Epic during Christmas Break 2017. If you haven’t read part 1 yet, you can find it here. Or check out our 10 Reasons to Cruise on the Epic post if you’re thinking about a trip on this ship.
Day 5 – Georgetown, Grand Cayman
Day 5 of our cruise brought us to another new port – Georgetown. It was still early morning when the ship set anchor just off the coast of Georgetown, Grand Cayman. The waters were an incredible shade of blue and aqua and the sun was out in full blast. What an amazing view to wake up to!
We met up with Stefan’s parents and Mackenzie for a quick breakfast at Taste, the main dining room, and then quickly headed for the tender and the shore. Since we had never been to Grand Cayman before, we were eager to get our bearings. Without any special excursions planned, we looked forward to exploring the city and seeing what kind of trouble we could get ourselves into.
While it’s always more convenient to enjoy a port day when the ship is docked, the tendering experience in Georgetown was pretty darn special. There were four other cruise ships next to ours and the tender ride was almost like a harbor tour. Once you arrive in the little tender port, you are pretty much downtown with attractions like shopping, dining or scuba diving just steps away.
During our first trip to a city, we usually like to explore it on foot to get a “feel” for its vibe and what it has to offer. As we got off the tender, we were joking about having to visit our money at “this bank, or that”. There really are quite a few international banks on this little rock in the Caribbean as well as tons of duty-free stores.
Thirsty from exploring, we ended on the patio of the Paradise Restaurant (96 S Church St) which had an amazing view overlooking the harbor, it’s amazing water and all of the massive cruise ships at anchor.
Originally Stefan had planned to go Scuba diving while visiting Georgetown, but ultimately decided he’d rather spend time with the family since “it’s Christmas and all”. Had he known just how close it was to enjoy some shore diving (literally 5 minutes walk) he would have planned differently. So he sat there, looking a bit sad at all the divers hitting the water to explore the reef, just a few feet away from where we were sitting.
We can’t wait to come back here during warmer temperatures to check out all the diving and snorkeling this island has to offer.
Once we returned to the boat, we had just enough time to relax on the pool deck a bit before it was time to get ready for the big night ahead. We were lucky enough to be invited to the dinner show, Cirque Dreams, and were joined by Nelson, the Hotel Director of the Epic, and one of his colleagues Kim, who is the Training Director on the Epic.
The show is set inside a replica circus tent with tables around the outside of the tent and a stage in the middle. This room was built specifically for the show and is a very intimate setting with great views to the stage from every angle. While dinner was served, Stefan and his dad had a great time asking the Hotel Director hundreds of questions about the ship and its operations while us girls chatted with his colleague about life on the ship.
The 3 Course fixed menu was delightful and consisted of Caprese Salad to start, Surf and Turf as the main and a trio of desserts with lots of chocolate. Each course was really delicious and we were all cleaning our plates as we continued chatting. The performers from the show would appear from time to time during the service in amazingly elaborate costumes for photo opportunities which was fun for all of us and Mackenzie loved the costumes.
Once the plates were cleared, the performance began. It consisted of an impressive show of jugglers, clowns, acrobats, a pole dancer, and other artistic performances. It was amazing to be so close to the performance and see the amazing body control of the artists as they performed their routines.
Although the room is a very small space, they manage to bring in tight-rope walking, lots of balancing acts, incredible feats of strength and body control with a couple on skates, and so much more. It truly was a show worthy of the Cirque du Soleil name and we all loved it.
After the show, the adults headed back to the Atrium bar for a nightcap (I had to see Mr. Wonderful again) while Mackenzie spent an hour or so playing with friends at the Splash Academy. It was not too long after that we all made our way back to our cabins for some rest.
Day 6 – Cozumel, Mexico
Day 6 of the cruise put us into my personal favorite cruise destination: Cozumel. I love the vibe of the town and its colors and smells. Stefan had hoped to go diving while in Cozumel, but with a 10 am arrival and 6 pm departure, there weren’t any really convenient dive boats available to fit with our plans.
Cozumel is somewhat of a shopping wonderland, especially if you are really into skulls like myself. But you can find anything from beach bags to hardcore medications freely available to purchase.
My shopping quest for the day was to retrace our steps from our last visit to find my favorite hat vendor. There are many places that sell hats in Cozumel, but this gentleman with his tiny stall in a side alley near the Benito Juarez park has by far the biggest selection at very fair prices.
There are lots of market stands and small vendors lining the edges of the park, and you’re often likely to see a local group performing.
They also have a huge Cozumel sign if you like to stop and take a photo.
Mackenzie had some money in her pocket that was apparently burning to be spent and she was on the hunt for a dress. As we strolled through the back alleys and shopping streets she finally found exactly what she was looking for.
Thankfully it wasn’t this. But we had fun taking the picture at his store before Mackenzie found the dress. The owner to be very kind and generous with his tequila. But at 10 am, we just weren’t ready for those kinds of drinks! The store which was full of Mexican wares like jewelry, dresses, pottery and more was called Artesanias Acuario at 143 5a Avenida Sur), and it was just below the restaurant La Terraza, which was easier to find online.
Thirsty from all the shopping, we set out to find an organic coffee roaster we had walked past on our last visit in September 2017. While our navigating skills weren’t so good, Google Maps put us right in front of some of the best coffee we’ve ever had at COZ Coffee Roasting Company. Except for maybe Harold’s Coffee in West Palm Beach. The owner is American and they roast their own coffee on premise and take pride in its preparation. In fact, you can even get a free 30-minute tour if you’re interested.
Stefan and I had a cold-brewed iced coffee and his parents a cappuccino. Be warned though, the coffee is strong – very strong.
Freshly caffeinated, we set out to see more of the city on foot, wandering around different streets we had never visited before. One of my favorite things about Cozumel is the street art. Even in some of the more run-down corners, you might stumble upon an amazing mural on the side of a building.
We cut our day in Cozumel rather short since we had scored some tickets to Escape the Bigtop on the ship, which is NCL’s version of an escape room game. We tried getting into this event during our last cruise on the Escape, but it booked out QUICK! There is limited space in the locations where the game is done, and escape rooms are so hot right now, so if you want to attend, you will need to contact the Box Office on your first day on the ship or try waiting at the door for standby access.
Our event began promptly at 4 and we were paired up with a group of about 8 other passengers to escape from the tent (12 people in the group total). If you have ever played an escape room on land, the concept will be very familiar to you – but the setup is adapted to being on a cruise ship and working in a larger group. I can’t tell you for certain what we did or how it worked, but I can say we had an absolute blast and thought for sure we could escape. In fact, we had a great team and solved many of the riddles…but no one managed to get us out of the room.
With the game completed, it was already time to head back to the cabins to get ready for the night ahead. We had tickets to see Burn the Floor, a show featuring all kinds of dancing from classic to rock. Stefan’s parents love dancing and were really excited to go see the show. But Mackenzie wasn’t so thrilled. So after a quick dinner for Mackenzie at the Garden Cafe (yes, Penne Bolognese… again), we dropped her off at Splash Academy and set out to enjoy our grown-up evening.
We reserved tickets for the show before we got on the ship (you can start booking tickets 90 days before your cruise for certain shows) but you always need to show up 20-30 minutes before the show to get the best seats — and visit the bar! The show was simply AMAZING. The dancers were incredible and so well trained. The live musicians playing all the music were great too, and a large focus was placed on Latin music and dances, but really everything was performed from the waltz to rock’n’roll. The show lasted about an hour and we would have enjoyed seeing it for much longer – it was just that good.
After the show was over, we made our way to Taste, the main dining room, which serves dinner until 9:30 pm.
Stefan’s parents had offered to host another sleepover for Mackenzie in their cabin and after finishing dinner sent us on our way to enjoy the evening. After a few rounds at the Casino, we were off to Spice H2O for NCL’s “Glow Party”. It’s one of our favorite parties that takes us back to our college days and is a sort of rave at sea. They play a lot of electronic and EDM hits, as well as some trance and techno classics that we all know and love. It was a great time, and we had just as much fun dancing ourselves as we did watching others dancing.
Day 7 – At Sea
Kidless and a bit groggy from the shenanigans of the night before, we woke up soaked in rays of sunshine pouring in through the open window. It was our last day at sea, but we still had a full program ahead of us. After a quick breakfast, we were already off, leaving Mack to spend the morning with her grandparents and then to final rehearsal in the afternoon for the kid’s club circus performance.
As one of the biggest highlights of the trip, we were able to score a sneak peek behind the scenes. Promptly at 11 am, we were at the guest services desk, joined by another family to see where the magic happens. Hotel Director Nelson took us through the ship’s impressive kitchen and bakery, explaining how nearly 5000 guests stay well fed all week and how the logistics of such a feat works.
By the end of the tour, all of us stood there with open mouths. We knew it takes a lot of careful planning to put on an amazing cruise on a such a giant ship, but NCL has it down to a science. It’s also easy to forget that beyond the “front of the house” part of the ship is a whole infrastructure hidden from the public that keeps things running and makes all your vacation dreams come true.
When the tour was finished, the Splash Academy Circus show had already begun, but Stefan and I managed to sneak in just before Mack’s big show part came up. She has been in the show three times now and always loves being a clown.
It’s always nice to see how all of the kids from the teenie-tiny ones who are fierce tigers to the bigger ones who act as clowns, jugglers and other artists come together. The kids seem to have an awesome time showing off the skills they learned during their time at kid’s club.
On our previous cruises, we always had dinner at Teppanyaki with the chefs and knife show. But since we like to sit and drink and laugh with each other at dinner, we opted to give LaCucina a try on this cruise. We have always steered clear of this place with the attitude of “we can cook pasta at home”. Boy were we wrong. LaCucina’s northern Italian style food was amazing. Mackenzie gorged herself on the freshly baked bread first, then the excellent Fried Calamari and finally a bit of the Osso Bucco later. Stefan and I started with the Beef Carpaccio and then I enjoyed the Osso Bucco as well. It’s a dish we’ve made at home in the past, but it’s quite a bit of work and we don’t make it often.
After dinner, Mackenzie was eager to get changed and head to the Splash Academy. The last night of the cruise is the kids’ pajama party, one of her favorite events of the week, and they all come in their favorite PJs.
The adults, on the other hand, decided to take one more trip to the casino to try our luck. It’s funny how we never gamble while at home, but spend a few bucks (and sometimes win a few back) while at sea. That night we seemed to have found the magic constellation. Stefan and his Dad at the roulette table and me being the lady luck drink runner. We didn’t win a lot, but it was definitely enough to cover the shopping day in Cozumel.
Day 8 – Disembarkation
The last morning on the ship always seems to be somewhat hectic and everyone dreads getting off the ship because we’ve had so much fun. We set our alarm clocks early and woke up just as the Epic docked at the Miami cruise terminal. We had already packed our belongings, except for the necessities, the night before. While NCL offers porter service for getting your luggage off the boat, you need to have your suitcases packed and placed outside the night before, and then still carry off your last night’s clothes, beauty products and other items you needed during the night.
Here is a tip for you: If you do carry off your own luggage, make sure it is easy to transport. While we normally travel using trolley’s as luggage, due to his tuxedo, Stefan opted for a larger Samsonite suitcase this time. They are great for flying, but in the “stop and go” cue leaving a cruise ship and passing immigration, there is a lot of ups and downs to get moving and it’s just not pleasant.
After a quick shower, we finished packing up and were ready to roll as soon as the green light to disembark was given. Disembarkation was super quick and within about 20 minutes we were off the ship and through customs.
The most amazing thing about disembarkation was the proximity to the car. It was even closer than we had remembered. Now if I only remembered how to drive a car. It’s always a weird feeling sitting behind the wheel of a car when you get off a 7-day cruise where you didn’t have to drive at all.
After loading our luggage in the car and paying our parking dues ($136 for the week), we were on the road home to Naples.
Driving through the backroads of Florida we were all still raving about the NCL Epic and the cruise we just came from. In fact, we were so excited that we booked the next two cruises in 2018 the very same day.
Check out our 2018 travel preview out soon to find out which cruises we have planned and other side trips we are discussing. What are your travel plans for 2018?