MS Norwegian Epic

Background

Cruiser: David Presley, age 56. I've been on several other cruises: the Sapphire Princess for a trip to Alaska in June 2007; Holland America's Zuiderdam on a 7-day Eastern Caribbean route in May, 2005; Premier's Seabreeze on a 7-day Western Caribbean route in February 2000; the Big Red Boat on a short jaunt over to Nassau in October 1999; the Dawn Princess on a 7-day Southern Caribbean route in November 1998; Carnival’s Jubilee on the 7-day Pacific coast swing in April 1997; Carnival’s Ecstasy on a 3-night New Year’s Bahamas cruise in December 1995; the Big Red Boat again in August 1994 (in conjunction with a Walt Disney World vacation); and a 4-night Bahamas cruise as a High School Graduation present back in May 1974.

This recap will be a tad different from most on this website - because it's being written about ten months after going on this cruise (a long story I'd rather not attempt to recount here). So while trip highlights will be intact, my usual excrutiating level of detail will not.

The trip began on Wednesday, October 17 - with my friend Ana giving me a lift to LAX - where (after proceeding to break-off my right heel while simply walking to my gate... a tough start & definitely a miserable way to travel halfway across the globe!) I caught British Airway's 3:40pm flight to London Heathrow...

 

 

Thursday, October 18, 2012 - Barcelona, Spain

...arriving just before 10am. My BA connection to Barcelona departed at 11:15 - seemed like enough time on paper, until I realized that Heathrow makes all international connecting passengers re-screen (as though they were just arriving at the airport). After sweating profusely I made it to the gate near the end of boarding (duly noting that two hours - or more - is the appropriate connection time at LHR)... but, once aloft, made a quick pace south - landing BCN just before 2:30pm. From there I had no problems at all with getting my checked bags, going through Customs & Immigration, then boarding the Aerobus for the half-hour-or-so ride into the Las Ramblas area.

From the drop-off it was about a two block walk to the Hotel Continental Barcelona (Ramblas 138) - thanks to Google Maps Street View I had a very good idea exactly how to get there - although once there it took a few extra minutes (til I realized that the lobby up several flights of stairs). Also had a problem with my MasterCard (the PIN wouldn't properly authorize - a problem that repeated itself later on this vacation in St. Thomas), but my Discover Card came to the rescue and I quickly settled into "second floor" room 256 (which, for one person, was VERY roomy by European standards... although the window that opened to an interior building construction site wasn't particularly appealing).

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As Barcelona is renown for its pickpockets, I brought along a "travel wallet" - where I'd put about 1/4-1/5 of my cash and one credit card... locking-up the rest in the in-room safe. With that, I was ready to venture-out: first, to some retail shops (where I bought a new, nearly identical pair of brown dress shoes - I had no qualms trashing the broken pair because they were, literally, probably 20+ years old). From there I got back on Las Ramblas and ventured-down to Gimeno Cigars (where I quickly made a half-dozen new friends from an island south of Key West); then to Carrefour Market (where I bought two dozen cans of Coke Light & a jar of Spanish Olives... but was unable to find a satisfactory bottle of Vodka to sneak-aboard the ship); then back to the hotel to drop-everything in the room, then wander downstairs for dinner at the hotel buffet (free 24/7, it was basically a salad bar with a couple of pasta items - although I did enjoy the complimentary sodas & beer... just be wary of the swill they call wine!). To try to not doze prematurely (as well as to walk-off dinner) I then decided to walk down to waterfront & back.... really lovely, and unlike reports I'd read on TripAdvisor, never did have any concern for my safety "south of the Liceu".

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A fine store on Las Ramblas, where I made several new friends from an island south of Key West
The entrance to La Boqueria
Barcelona's 197' tall Christopher Columbus Monument
Lots of outdoor dining on The Ramblas
Barcelona's Waterfront, with the Aquarium just out of frame to the left
Very few streets in Barcelona run in straight lines... normally, this would bother my Virgo sensibilities - but I grew to appreciate it
Need any prescriptions filled?

Lots of clubs and such - but this old guy decided to call it a relatively early night, watch a little TV, then get a good night's sleep... cuz tomorrow was going to be a busy one!

 

Friday, October 19, 2012 - Touring Barcelona, Spain

The Hotel had a really excellent (and filling!) buffet breakfast - grabbed my camera, got downstairs (where I realized it was far too dark for just after 8am) - and saw that it was pouring rain. Ahem... at least I came prepared (walking back up to my room to grab an umbrella). I had planned on walking to Sagrada Familia.- as it was, the ~45 min walk was quite pleasant... just very damp and not at all conducive to great photography. I had pre-bought my tickets - and was grateful having done so... when I saw the pre-opening line stretched around two city blocks (it's Barcelona's #1 attraction, and for good reason).

Barcelona's Sagrada Familia - Antoni Gaudi's masterwork
A really impressive entrance...
Gaudi was most strongly influenced by nature - which he tried to integrate into all of his architecture...
...evidenced here by the various kinds of fruit adorning this facade
Quite the front door, huh?
Abundant natural light throughout the cathedral
The acoustics were the best of any cathedral I've ever visited - no echos, but no real damping either (this was by design)
Gaudi tried to make his columns reflect nature by operating much as trees... exploding into a canopy above the cathedral
Just below the pipes you could see a service, in progress, in one of the lower-level chapels
It wouldn't be me if I didn't photograph a cathedral's pipe organ - however, this is the best I could do at Sagrada Familia (as the actual keyboard is well hidden from public view)
Once I learned about the mathematical concepts underpinning Gaudi's designs I became even more enthralled by the man's vision
They really do kind of look like trees, don't they?
Shame that my one day of Barcelona touring was done in the rain :/

I spent nearly two hours inside - which was probably overkill - but had no burning desire to be outside in the rain longer than necessary. Good thing: I'd also pre-bought a day-pass on BusTuristic, but on this particular day they were having both mechanical problems & were dealing with a driver's strike. Even with the extended time, I still had to stand-around a good bit til I was able to board the Blue Route about 11:30.

From the cathedral, the Blue Route went to Park Guell - my original plan was to get-off and walk for an hour or so (as the city fiews are supposed to be nothing short of spectacular... plus, it's a good look at local lifestyle)... but steady, medium rain saw me staying aboard, as I mentally rethought some of the days planned activities. The northern parts of Barcelona were truly lovely... probably even moreso when the sun is shining!

At any rate, I rode for 35-40 min - past Reial Monestir de Pedralbes, Pavellons Guell & Palau Reial, the Futbal Club & Stadium, Barcelona University, and through Placa Catalunya - before getting-off to tour Casa Batllo and nearby Casa Amatller. It was here, in combination with the morning's visit to Sagrada Familia, that I'd been won-over by Gaudi. LOVE his style!

Casa Batllo - Gaudi's design commissioned by textile industrialist Josep Batllo - built in the early 20th century
A nice little conversation area - where you can warm yourself by the fire
The living room - which felt like being inside of a giant clam
Clearly inspired by the ocean, Gaudi took pains to use blue tiles that grew darker as they increased in height... since the light was brighter near the top of the well... giving a very credible illusion of being underwater
I can't imagine what it would cost to attempt building something like this today?!!
Gaudi's signature hyperbolic arches - not only reflective of nature, but terribly efficient when it comes to weight distribution
On the Roof Terace one finds the "dragon's back" and chimneys that use materials to resemble smoke
The attic area - again, with the arches

After 45 min or so, I continued walking northerly to Casa Mila / La Pedrera (note the pattern of doing inside touring - although, by then, showers had gone from steady to sporadic).

With the undulating stone facade, La Pedrera is not like any other apartment building I've ever seen!
While I did the full interior tour, the rooftop is what everybody comes to see... again, Gaudi used architectural tools to mimic smoke rising from the chimneys
Heckuva way to disguise chimneys, isn't it?
I don't often call things "whimsical" - but that's really the best adjective to describe the feeling
Interior wells assure lots of natural light in the residences...
...with this pic showing the top of the well and how it integrates with the attic and chimneys
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Couldn't resist sharing this old timey phonograph (you tour an apartment that is furnished as it would've been in the early 1900s)

About an hour later I exited, then walked another block north to pick-up BusTuristic's Red Route - taking me past Francesc Macia - Diagonal, Estacio de Sants, Parc Joan Miro, and Font Magica - before exiting and touring MNAC (Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya)... where I spent the next 2-1/2 hours touring the various exhibitions.
After a quick walk down to the Magic Fountin (and vowing to myself that I'd return where I had time... and better weather... to come see it at night) continued on the Red Route - past Anella Olimpica (site of the 1992 Summer Olympic Games), the Joan Miro Foundation, Maritime Museum & Columbus Monument, the Barcelona World Trade Center, Port Vell, and Ciutadella Park - before exiting near the Church of Santa Maria Del Mar. Interestingly, from this direction I had trouble finding it - but did continue northward to Barri Gotic, past the (soon to close for the day, which was a bummer) Picasso Museum, before heading back west to the Hotel. On the way back I found a tiny grocery - but they carried Stoli - so I picked-up a bottle (along with two empty water bottles) so that the contents of one could be replaced.

Parc de l'Espanya Industrial (and the Nagel black dragon)
Fira de Barcelona
The Barcelona National Museum of Art
A view toward the Magic Fountain from the steps leading-up to the National Art Museum
While visually lovely, I took the escalator just off to the left :)
The Magic Fountain by day (on my next visit I'll be sure to make time to visit at night - when it's supposed to be spectacular!)
With rain showers sporadically continuing into the afternoon, I spent a couple of hours touring the National Art Museum
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The Christopher Columbus Monument by day... and, yes, he's pointing towards "The New World"
Art is found all over the city - with this lobster streetside near the waterfront
Early Saturday morning - waiting for the tour to depart for the Cordiniu Winery (to see cava being made then taste) - then on to Montserrat
And, yes, it was again lightly raining

While I had pre-selected both dining options & evening entertainment, I was basically dead... so I partook (once again) of the Hotel Buffet, took a quick shower before bed, then slept like the dead til my alarm went-off the next morning.

 

Saturday, October 20, 2012 - Touring Montserrat, Spain

After a hasty breakfast trip to the Hotel Buffet, I grabbed my camera then briskly walked the few blocks west to Palau de la Musica (another place I'd dearly love to have visited, if I'd had more time!)... where, next door, was the check-in at Explore Catalunya's office. Our Montserrat and Cava Trail Small Group Day Trip got off to something of a rocky start: there was a new bus driver, and he apparently didn't know either the proper place or time for pickup... so our guide* led us for a couple of blocks through nooks 'n crannies until we found him parked at a nearby hotel.

*Our guide *swoons*... Julia... not only one of the best tourguides I've had anywhere/anytime - but also one of the most beautiful women (both inside AND out) that I've ever met. She said she planned on visiting the U.S. West Coast in the latter part of 2013 - I gave her my card and said I'd be thrilled to play tourguide for her... we'll see. I'm not optimistic, but you never know. Ah, if only she wasn't younger than my daughter! lol

Anyhoo, once underway, it was about an hour's drive north to the sprawling Cordorniu Cava facility for a tour... that I found both enlightening and tasty!

About an hour outside of Barcelona, we arrive at Codorniu - the world's largest maker of sparkling wines (aka "cava" in Catalonian)
The old production facility is now a museum...
...while the arches were inspired by Gaudi, the design is by one of his students
Time to descend into the caves (eight floors down) - where the bottles are stored at the various stages of the production process
Halfway there - barrels store the wine for 90 days, after which they're bottled
All-the-way-down you find wine catacombs - so large, the only way to see them is by vehicle (sorry for the blurriness - but the camera did an amazing job considering the dim light & our quick pace)
About this time on the tour we were informed that the four million bottles on display were just that: display. Their production has now far exceeded the storage capacity in these caves, so these are for historical reference only
We were running a little behind schedule because the tour group ahead of us had a problem with one person being claustrophobic. Wonder why? ;)
Ascending from the caves toward the tasting room
It really IS a very special place to visit
And, for the main attraction :)
We sampled both rose & white (the women in our group tended to prefer the slightly sweeter rose - while I liked the (traditional) white)

Wish the pics were better (especially deep underground in the tunnels) but a digital point 'n shoot has limitations. Biggest surprise (for me) was the discovery that Cordorniu is the 19th largest privately held corporation int he world. That, and they make a much better product than I realized!

We loaded-up, then drove another half-hour to Montserrat - stopping first at a small Hermitage...

About 4km before arriving at Montserrat we made a brief stop at a small hermitage
One of the things I love about Europe is that their (relatively) new buildings would be considered ancient by US standards
Our lovely tourguide, Julia, tries to wrangle the group for the final drive to Montserrat
Yes, Montserrat is a mountain - with the visitor center / cafeteria perched on the side of said mountain
The views are tremendous - but likely will not appeal to those suffering from acrophobia
The cathedral complex awaits...
A knight guards the entrance...
...and, regardless of the angle from which you stand, he always looks directly at you
Making our way towards the Monestary...
...leads you from the outer courtyard to the inner...
...and then into the cathedral itself
Incredible detail-work was found throughout
Those that were so inclined could take a candle and pray...
...but, instead, I opted for a ride on the Funicular to the top of the mountain
There were a few in my group who opted to walk up the mountain (which took about an hour). No thank you ;)
If I had but one suggestion, I wish they didn't use such reflective glass throughout - making photography very difficult
There are various hermitages / hiking trails on top of the mountain... I opted for the 15min one, not only because I'm out of shape but because visibility was so terribly limited
Various views atop Montserrat
Various views atop Montserrat
Various views atop Montserrat
Various views atop Montserrat
Various views atop Montserrat
Various views atop Montserrat
Various views atop Montserrat
Various views atop Montserrat
Various views atop Montserrat
Various views atop Montserrat
Various views atop Montserrat
Various views atop Montserrat (and, yes, the drop-off beyond the railing was as severe as you might expect)
Various views atop Montserrat (maybe one of these days I'll have an opportunity to return... on a day with blue skies)
Various views atop Montserrat
The controls seemed very automated - but always good to have a human present should manual operation be required
Descending towards the Monastery complex
Almost back down to the bottom
Peering back-up towards the mountain tops
It's a very large complex - we only scratched the surface during this day's visit
One of the cable car stations from the valley below
Yes, it's a LOOOOOOOONNNNNG way down!
A few final views before we return to Barcelona...
A few final views before we return to Barcelona...
A few final views before we return to Barcelona...
A few final views before we return to Barcelona...
A few final views before we return to Barcelona...
A few final views before we return to Barcelona...

As you can tell, like the rest of my time in Spain, it was quite overcast - a real problem at the top of the mountain (where, at times, the fog-like clouds drifting past made it difficult to see more than 15'-20' in front of you). Since returning I've looked at photos taken on a clear, blue sky day... something else to hope for on a return visit!

Old guy slept most of the drive back - arriving in front of that same hotel just before dark. I was tired, but determined to go out for dinner on my last night in Barcelona... stupidly, I detoured from my pre-researched suggestions and simply walked across Las Ramblas to a small tapas joint called The Jules Verne. Ugh. While some TripAdvisor reviews call their food inedible, I found that to be a bit of an overstatement... but it definitely was less than memorable. Oh well - if I go back I need to get myself in better shape (where I've got the stamina to keep going well into the evening). The one upside? It was, once again, pouring rain when I finished - so at least I didn't have that long of a walk (sans umbrella) back to the hotel!

 

Sunday, October 21, 2012 - Embarkation & Sailing

I woke early - no doubt excited that it was cruise embarkation day! Decided to grab the camera (and umbrella) for a rainy early morning walk along Las Ramblas for one last set of pics. I also made a point of returning to the Explore Catalunya office to pick-up the free bottle of cava that was promised at the end of the previous day's tour (they were closed by the time we returned). As daylight fully arrived the rain decided to depart (of course!) - so I wandered until I found the Barcelona Cathedral (La Seu) and snapped a few exterior shots (since it was Sunday, there's no way I was getting inside).

Sunday morning - the day our cruise begins - and guess what? It was raining!  — at Las Ramblas :)
Dawn arrives very late this time of year in Barcelona - this was about 8:30 in the morning
The La Seu Cathedral, just as they were opening their doors for "business"
Looking skyward... again, I'd love to reshoot this picture one day against blue skies
A few last looks at Barcelona before hailing a taxi and boarding the ship
Buh-bye, Barcelona - hope to visit again one day :)

About 11, I did a very easy hotel check-out - then shared a taxi with Fran Perry (who I'd "met" on the CruiseCritic Roll Call for this cruise) to the Barcelona Cruise Terminal A. Bought two bottles Spanish red wine just after the security area (and, being the good doobie that I am, declared them at $15/bottle - it would've been quite easy to smuggle them aboard from that point). Once aboard the Norwegian Epic, we headed-up to Spice H2O for lunch - after which our rooms were ready, so I walked down to Cabin 12514 (one of the Studio cabins specifically designed & priced for single travelers) to unpack (one bag already there, one arrived 30-40min later). I then bumbled-down to the Internet Cafe to buy 250min Internet Access (for $100 - plus, on Day 1 of the cruise if you buy you get an additional 20 minutes comp'd).

Studio Cabin 12514 - the big allure (for me) was rooms priced for singles... I have a philosophic problem paying for two while traveling as one
Strangely, the smallest rooms on the ship had some of the biggest flat screen televisions. Go figure.
One of my acquaintances described the studios as being a large bathroom with a mattress thrown-into one corner. Yeah, that's fairly accurate (but it was still plenty roomy for just me)
Another design quirk of the Epic: the singles cabins have solid doors leading to the toilet, while every other cabin on this ship has translucent doors. What on earth were the designers thinking?!??

Explored the ship a bit more - making sure that I was inside the Spiegel Tent, with life jacket in hand, for the 430ish Safety (aka Muster) Drill. After returning the jacket to my cabin, I made-way to the 5p CruiseCritic Sailaway Party aft at Spice H2O... fun to finally meet several dozen people that I'd known online for the previous several months!

Killer Martinis - along with a grand piano that saw yours truly playing a couple of times along the way
A quick peek at the Cigar Lounge... I spent some time in here reading and enjoying the company of my new friends from Gimeno's :)
Shortly after coming-aboard, I'll always wander the main decks of a ship to try to get my bearings - this is the chandelier hung over the Taste Restaurant
The Epic has the largest casino afloat (something that was wasted on me, as I have zero interest in gambling)
"Fat Cats" is the Epic's full-time Memphis-style Jazz & Blues Club
The Epic's very inexpensive (yet very tasty) sushi bar
The main theatre which showcases The Blue Man Group
Howl At The Moon happens on about half of the evenings you're aboard
There are two bowling alleys aboard this behemoth - these lanes being adjacent to...
...O'Sheehan's - a 24 hour a day pub (with most excellent burgers, fish 'n chips, and chicken pot pie)
The Bridge (with "Captain Smashing" addressing the ship, to the right) - as seen from the viewing room

That last pic shows "Captain Smashing" (his quick nickname, given that every sentence in his daily addresses seemed to be punctuated with that word). Ate a very informal dinner this first night at O'Sheehan's (about 15 "Hot" [not really] Buffalo Wings, Fries, and a couple of Draft Beers); wandered down Fat Cats to give Charlie Love & the Silky Smooth Band a listen (they were "acceptable" but not at all remarkable); then wandered up to Shakers Bar to hear Ross Ranallo on solo piano (quietly competent and a helluva nice guy). Things seemed very mellow this first night... didn't stay-up all that late, and got a very nice first night's sleep onboard the Epic.

 

Monday, October 22, 2012 - A Day at Sea

I got a fairly early start on things - as evidenced by some of the pics below (showing very few people out on deck). At 11, I attended the CruiseCritic Meet 'n Greet in the Bliss Lounge (there were about 120 of us on this cruise - enough that the Captain and his Senior Staff made a point of attending as well)., then spent the rest of the afternoon on deck reading and sipping adult beverages - until it was time for the daily 5:30p Solo Travelers Gathering (in the Studio Living Room)... lots of folks in attendance, but (at least for me) no significant friend-bonding taking place. I left about 6:20 and headed-up to the starboard top deck to watch our Gibralter passage (the Captain, literally, had the ship running at top speed ever since Barcelona to be sure the passage happened during daylight hours). It was lovely - and really striking to look right and see Europe, while looking left you saw Africa. Found myself wishing there was time to see both... another day, perhaps :)

I had a 7:30p specialty dinner reservation at Moderno Churrascuria - and was almost ecstatic that they not only seated me by myself (as requested) but also next to a window where I could watch the Rock of Gibralter pass in the ever-darkening skies (see the last photo below). Moderno is awesome! KILLER salad bar (esp the ceviche), and found myself wishing my belly could've held more Picanha / Filet Mignon / Chicken Breast / Costela de Carneiro / Linguica (they also had a nice selection of desserts, but I just couldn't lol). I then waddled-down (literally!) for my; 9:30p reservation at the Legends In Concert (in the Epic Theatre - featuring "Madonna", "Rod Stewart", and "Elvis"). Of the three, the guy doing Rod Stewart was (IMO) the most authentic. A good time... pretty typical cruise entertainment fare. And, to finish-out this night, we set back our clocks one hour (one of the things that really appealed to me about the east-to-west crossing was adding time on the clock every day-or-two... it was nice :)

The first full day at sea (Mon 22-Oct-12)... with the passengers getting a slow start to their day
The Mediterranean Sea was VERY calm on this particular day
The Captain was running full-throttle - to assure that we reached the Strait of Gibraltar while it was still daylight. This found us passing other ships quite quickly.
At the rear of the ship is the adult's only Spice H2O area - with a pool by day that becomes a dance floor by night (home of the cruise line's "White Hot Party")
A full sized basketball / tennis court can be found on Deck 16
One of the five water slides aboard the Epic (this one was nice because the tube opened about 2/3 the way down... most of the others were quite dark until you exited)
The infamous "Epic Plunge" - pretty cool considering it's on a ship, but otherwise kinda tame 9at least to me)
That freighter seen earlier? Left in the dust quite quickly!
Just a bit before 7pm, most everyone appeared topside to see the famed Rock of Gibraltar
Inching closer 'n closer to The Rock
Getting ready for a lovely sunset off the African continent
The actual municipality of Gibraltar
A classic view of The Rock...
...with the zoom lens helping reveal more detail
My view of The Rock in the waning light of day - as seen while dining in the Argentinian Churrascaria Restaurant aboard the Epic
 

Tueday, October 23, 2012 - A Day at Sea

With this day I started to fall into my regular sea-day pattern on this Transatlantic Crossing: grab breakfast up in the buffet line (which was really excellent - several made-to-order omelette stations [that included copious quantities of jalapeno peppers and hot sauce], all kinds of breakfast meats, fruits, etc.); then take either a book (I read two over the course of this cruise!) or my iPad and adjourn to the Humidor Cigar Lounge for a few hours; then back up to the buffet area in the early afternoon for an equally tasty bite of lunch - anything from burgers / hot dogs to Indian to generic cafeteria food... a big selection that pretty much ran the buffet gamut. On days where I didn't feel like having a cigar I'd do my reading either out on deck (during the first half of the cruise - prior to hitting the very warm/humid tropics) or inside... either in the Studio Living Room or one of the other public areas around the ship.

On this day I made a point of arriving at Maltings Bar for a 2p Margarita Tasting... SOOOO good! But the booze also got me a bit drowsy, so I grabbed a late afternoon nap (missing the regular 5:30p Studio Singles gathering). Dinner this night was just me at Manhattan (it was "Dress Up Or Not" night... I chose "Not"... something else I REALLY like about NCL!) - wish I could remember, as I'm typing this recap, what I ate... I remember it was good, but don't remember exactly what it was! In any event, 10ish found me in Headliners - where I spent a couple hours at Howl At The Moon (which is exactly like the land-based version). Lots of fun!

Howl at the Moon is just as much fun at sea as it is on land!

Lastly,just before turning-in, the clocks went back once again... an extra hour's sleep for tomorrow morning does a body good!

 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - A Day at Sea

Retrospectively... the only thing I can really remember about the day before our first port stop was being enthralled with the much slower pace of a repositioning cruise (this being my first). Everybody - both passengers and crew - just seem more relaxed/chill. It agrees with me... I'm thinking I might grow to like them (and I'm wasn't missing port intensivity at all).

Because I'd made reservations for specialty dining, I do specifically recall eating at Shanghai Asian that evening - where I began with cold sake... then spicy chicken lettuce wraps, hot 'n sour soup, extra-spicy Malay Lamb Curry, and something they called "Oriental Creme Brulee". It was good, but not any more remarkable than a good Asian restaurant back home - my reaction a day or two later (as well as now) is that I'd probably skip it on future cruises unless I was just having a big urge for Chinese (btw, my one big urge - that I eventually filled in St Thomas? Tex-Mex. Kind of wish they had one of those aboard).

I also remember the evening's entertainment - again, because I specifically booked it (and can still refer to the entry in my calendar): The Blue Man Group, in the Epic Theatre at 10pm. Afterwards they also had one of them available for photos - but the line was pretty fierce and (in all honesty) I likely wouldn't have bought a pic of my self anyway. Wandered a little bit, but basically turned-in early so I'd be energized for tomorrow's full day of touring.

 

Thursday, October 25, 2012 - Ponta Delgada, Azores

When I awoke the ship was doing the final manuvers to dock in Ponta Delgada. I had heard, from alumni (there were a shocking number of passengers aboard who repeatedly do this crossing every year - with a few of them also doing the spring crossing too!) that the island was reminiscent of Hawaii. Now that I've been there, I generally agree (it's actually more like a cross between Hawaii & Yellowstone). After grabbing a bit of breakfast, I met-up with everybody at the pre-determined spot in the island's Cruise Terminal.

The Port in Ponta Delgada, Azores (part of Portugal, about 600 miles west of the mainland)

Many months before sailing, one of the passengers was soliciting interest in arranging a group excursion - and I expressed interest in joining them. We eventually selected the Lagoa Fogo & Furnas Valley tour by Amazing Tours - that included Barb/Bill & Kay/Larry (from IL), Lesley/Ewald (from Austria), and Fran Perry (from FL). Here were the tour highlights:

  • Caldeira Velha – surrounded by fern trees and a hot spring with boiling water, it is a warm waterfall tempting its visitors to take a bath.
On the way up to Lagoa do Fogo, we make a brief stop at Caldeira Velha...
...and the famed waterfall (with warm, iron-rich water) - if we'd had time, swimming is encouraged... but we had a lot of ground to cover in very little time!
...to see the Caldeira (the first of MANY this day)...
  • Lagoa do Fodo - a Nature Reserve located in the middle of the island, surrounded by untouched vegetation. It is an enormous lake of clear water, white sand beaches, and incomparable tranquility. The most prominent feature is Pico da Barrosa - at 3,106 feet, it is one of the highest points on the island... with a spectacular view over the south and north sides of the island (even better, I would imagine, with better visibility).
On the way up to Lagoa do Fodo, I took five photos that stitched-together into this panorama
We've arrived at the top of the Nature Reserve...
Lovely, lovely place... I want to go back for a land vacation!
...for our brief glimpse of the lake below (our tourguide, Carlos, said this view is incredible in clear skies)
Speaking of Carlos, I cannot recommend highly enough Amazing Tours. If you ever visit The Açores, they are who you want to show you the island. Top notch!
  • Miradouro do Pisão is the viewpoint overlooking Caloura, and is one of the most famous summer places of São Miguel - known to be the seat of the first nunnery on the island.
  • Villa Franca - the first capital of the island until being destroyed by an earthquake in 1522, is a very nice and picturesque village to visit.
  • Ermida da Senhora da Paz, located on the top of the hill, offers a wonderful, panoramic view.
Overlooking Caloura
This wonderful little hermitage offered incredible views of the valley below...
...as seen here
So glad my little digicam was able to expose this properly - a really wonderful vista from inside...
...that became even more spectacular when you stepped outside
And here's a view looking back up towards the hermitage once we arrived int he valley below
This being a private tour, we made an extremely quick stop in town to sample the local cupcakes...
...which were OOOOOH so tasty - but unlike any cupcake I'd ever tried!
  • Caldeiras das Furnas - where boiling water & medical mud are used for treatment of respiratory diseases and skin.
We have arrived... at the place where the earth is warm enough to cook-with!
Yes, pay attention to the warning signs - some land gives way into (naturally) boiling spring water (this is, after all, the bottom of a dormant volcano!)
This area is so special - kind of like a weird cross between Hawaii & Yellowstone!
And while we were warned about the smell of sulfur, it wasn't at all overpowering
Bubbling, churning... on this somewhat cool day it was a very comfortable place to be
  • Lagoa das Furnas is the place where the earth is warm enough to cook the famous Furnas “Cozido”.
The small church - situated on the Lagoa das Furnas lake that was once the bottom of an active volcano
Earlier I mentioned cooking - for lunch we were going to get to enjoy Cozido - the traditional dish cooked in the ground...
It consists of different sausages (incl black), chicken breast & beef - piled atop potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, cabbage, carrots, and other stuff (but no added liquid)
Cozido cooks in the ground for 6hrs in a stainless pot - covered by dirt
When time is up, the dirt is uncovered and the pot lifted from the ground...
...for us to enjoy over lunch (yes, this is the ONE AND ONLY photo of yours truly during the entire vacation holiday! lol)
  • Pico do Ferro - surrounded by lush vegetation and waterfalls, is a spectacular panorama over the valley of Furnas.
The town of Furnas is, indeed, a very lovely place
The different Caldeiras found in the town of Furnas...
...one of which have more kick than the others!
From atop the hill you get a wonderful view of the Furnas valley
With a view of the Lagoa das Furnas lake coming into better view with the rising ceiling
Looking-back-down towards Lagoa das Furnas - where our lunch was cooked
  • Fabrica de Cha Gorreana, one of two tea factories in Europe, produces black and green tea (my daughter is a bit of a teatotaler - so I bought her an assortment that included Orange Pekoe, Pekoe, Broken Leaf & the local “Cha Gorreana”... she says they're very good)
Europe's only Tea Plantation - Cha Gorreana
In case you ever wondered what fields of tea leaves looked-like ;)
  • Miradouro de Santa Iria, overlooking the north coast of São Miguel... for the (obviously) amazing views (very reminiscent - at least to me - of Ireland)
"strike a pose there's nothing to it!
Overlooking the north coast of Sao Miguel... and, yes, it looks strikingly like the coastline of Ireland
Wouldn't you agree?
Hurrying back to the ship... it would not be a good thing to miss the appointed departure time!
Motoring-away from Ponta Delgada. As I say, I'd really like to go back again one day :)
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Once back aboard, my need for Euros had ended - so I took them to Guest Services and had them applied to my account... after which I went topside for an adult beverage and to watch our departure from Ponta Delgada; I then returned to my cabin to clean-up before freestyle dining at Taste. Only other plans that evening was to attend the 9p show in Headliners by The Second City. Meh. Completely underwhelmed - and, consequently, didn't bother with any of their other shows for the remainder of the trip.

 

Friday, October 26, 2012 - A Day at Sea

I woke this morning aware that the actual crossing of the Atlantic Ocean was now taking place... although, were it not for the moving maps in our cabins, being out of sight of land that's 1,000 miles away versus 100 miles away isn't at all obvious.

I also needed to get my room tidied-up - because mid-morning was the CruiseCritic Cabin Crawl & Poker Run (as one of the event organizers my room was the example of the Studio-class aboard Epic... the idea behind a Cabin Crawl is to get to see different classes of cabins you'd otherwise never be able to see). It was a lot of fun, and the five dozen-or-so who participated seemed very appreciative.

That evening we (plural because at this point I'd joined-up with a couple of CruiseCritic friends for specialty restaurant dinners) had a 7:30p reservation at La Cucina. I remember ordering a pizza that I specifically planned on bringing back to the room for future consumption... think I also ordered the Tomato & Mozzarella appetizer, their house salad, Pork Saltimbocca (good!), and Tiramisu plus a Double Espresso for dessert. Definitely good enough to include on future NCL sailings!

Afterwards, I spent some time listening (and, to a degree, participating) in another Howl At The Moon show in Headliners... may have also wandered up to hear Ross tinkling the ivories in Shakers (ten months after the fact - as I'm writing this recap - I honestly can't remember lol). When I did turn-in, it was time to resume turning-back the clock an hour... another indication we were motoring steadily to the west.

 

Saturday, October 27, 2012 - A Day at Sea

I mentioned the Atlantic Crossing... on this day, we reached the halfway point (I presume, looking at the map, the nearest speck of land was probably Bermuda?).

The middle of the Atlantic Ocean... pretty much continuous 8'-11' seas, and NEVER a night that wasn't cloudy (a big disappointment, as I was really looking forward to doing some star gazing)

This day also saw me running very low on clean clothes (having packed with the intention of doing laundry at about the halfway point). Thankfully, this was the day of the expected Laundry Special (where, instead of ala carte pricing, you pay a flat $25 to launder anything you can stuff into the bag... I'd even brought-along some plastic tape to seal-up the otherwise overflowing bag). Off they went - with me having just enough clothes til their arrival next day... or so it was planned (more on this in tomorrow's recap).

Having skipped a number of the Studio Living Room Solo Travelers Gatherings, I made a point of attending the one today (and got hounded by a couple of folks about where I'd been hiding... hey, it was MY vacation, and my #1 mission was to simply chill!). Just before 6:30 I departed - walking up to the Ice Bar, where I was the only one on the schedule (which was VERY nice - after donning the ski parka & gloves, I got one-on-one attention from a lovely bartendress as I sampled several very cold vodka-laced adult beverages). It's fun to do - once - but the price is kind of steep to keep going back for more. BTW, yes, one of the ship's photographers snapped a few pics of me inside - and, of course, I remembered about them a couple of days after I'd returned home! :p

I'd originally planned on the evening meal in the Manhattan Dining Room - but recall not having a big, multi-course appetite... so instead enjoyed pub food once again at O'Sheehan's. I LIKE that place... never jam-packed with people (at least on this cruise, although always steadily busy), and great served food - be it for dinner or for breakfast (which I did a couple of times). At 11 I attended "the Magic Comedy of Jeff Hobson" in the Epic Theatre... I remember it as good, but not in the "wow!" category. No clue what I did after that - except that before turning-in the clock was dialed-back another hour (and, yes, while my body clock was definitely off it's far preferable to be adding an hour a day than - in my opinion - it would be to subtract one!).

BTW, my one disappointment being in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean? I had desperately hoped to find a dark spot up on deck very late at night and do some stargazing - except that every single night had a heavy overcast (and/or rain squalls). Good thing they had GPS aboard - celestial nav just wouldn't have worked this trip!

 

Sunday, October 28, 2012 - A Day at Sea

The highlight of the first part of this day at sea was the CruiseCritic Luncheon - catered (gratis) especially for our group! Referring to my copy of the Chef's Tasting Menu, we enjoyed:

  • Maryland Crab Cakes with Avocado Salad & Bell Pepper Coulis
  • Pan Seared Scallop & Shrimps with Artichoke & Chive Risotto, Veal Jus OR Roasted Fillet Mignon with Potato Gratin, Wilted Spinach, Onion Marmalade & Truffled Madeira Jus (I sampled both, as you can see in the photo below)
  • Banana Cream Pie with Chocolate Caramel Drizzle & Toasted Coconut

The CruiseCritic.com lunchon - specially catered by ship staff (this was a filet mignon with shrimp & scallops on the side)... with free-flowing champagne during the meal :p

My clean laundry was supposed to have been returned to the cabin late afternoon - but instead I got excuses about how overwhelmed they were, and that it would be delayed (hopefully no mare than until late that night). Okay, I'd make do - although I was, at this point, beginning to have to reuse previously-worn shirts & such.

I really wanted to sample the Epic's sushi bar at some point - so tonight was as good as any. I distinctly remember starting with cold sake - then having a 4 piece sashimi plate - then a caterpillar roll - then another roll (not sure what) - then yakitori. While not world class, it was definitely better than "supermarket sushi" quality that I read about most other cruise lines offering. And the pricing is very fair... after all, your food is already included in the cost of the cruise - since you're not eating it, why soak you for full-price sushi items? VERY refreshing to pay only $3-$4 for a roll! :)

Late that evening I returned to my room - and found no laundry waiting for me... all I could do was dial-back my clock once again, then ask my cabin steward about it the next morning...

 

Monday, October 29, 2012 - A Day at Sea

Laundry... Oy - what a complete mess! That morning, my clean "laundry" was returned - except that almost 2/3 of it was missing! I started trying to inventory my clothing so they could look for it (thanking my lucky stars that I kept the laundry receipt where I'd completed # shirts, # pants, #tees, #shorts, #underwear, etc.) - ever so slowly (i.e. about once an hour) the cabin steward would knock with a valet cart of clothing items... maybe a third of my clothes returned in this manner.

Needing a breather, I went topside for lunch - then attended a 1p lecture (in Headliners) by Terrance B... the (usually comedy) hypnotist that was aboard. The session was called "Fall Asleep Easily" - and he said most people that attend report an incredible night's sleep later that night. Apparently, I'm not most people - mine was as fitful as usual (blame it on middle age, I suppose... or at least me not being very susceptible to hypnosis!). I then returned to my cabin, where the Steward appeared moments later and asked if I'd like to follow him down to the laundry room (as they couldn't identify any more of my missing items themselves). I could've really let this bother me - but, instead, figured I was instead getting a behind-the-scenes look at crew life aboard a cruise ship: we went through "Crew-Only" doors, then took a very utilitarian elevator down to Deck 3 (not a public area). As he led me through the hallway, various workers would do a double-take at my presence... indicating that this apparently isn't a regular thing (lucky me!). Arrived at the HUGE laundry facility, and they had about 4-5 valet carts filled with clothing items... I was able to go through them and find the last of my stuff.

The problem with their system is that they have little stickies they affix to your clothing that has your cabin number... except that the stickies seem to come-off in the wash. I'd still use them again (as I refuse to pack enough clothes to fully go 2+ weeks... just too heavy) - but, next time, I'll bring-along an itemized sheet of each item (e.g. a shirt brand, type, size, color) - then make note on it when something goes to the ship's laundry. Had I been able to give them that level of detail they would've been able to return all of my stuff forthwith... as it is, "a blue polo" tended to produce a couple dozen possibilities!

On the upside, late that night the House Manager sent a plate of sweets and a note of apology for my troubles - as I say, could've let it really upset me... but that's not my style :)

Think I ate dinner at the Taste Restaurant that evening (and developing quite a crush on this very tall, statuesque, dark-haired waitress) - then spent some time in Fat Cats listening to Charlie Love & The Silky Smooth Band. They did their best to enliven the crowd - but this was a very mellow group! Returning to bed, tonight was the last time we dialed-back the clocks.

 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012 - A Day at Sea

This day is kind of a wash in my memory - pretty sure I enjoyed a churchill in the Cigar Lounge while finishing an autobiography I'd brought-with; also remember attending a mid-afternoon Martini Clinic at Shakers Bar (which is a little surprising as I also remember getting rather polluted! lol). That night, we had a 6:30pm reservation at Le Bistro (French) down on Deck 6... believe I had Escargot (as I typically do whenever eating French cuisine), their Four-Mushroom Soup, the Duck, and *yum* Vanilla Creme Brulee. Really, really excellent (and rich!) food - I'd definitely go again. That evening, I think I spent some time at Howl At The Moon... otherwise, probably just called it a relatively early night - in anticipation of tomorrow's Halloween round of golf :)

 

Wednesday, October 31, 2012 - Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands

My second tropical Halloween (the first being a trip to Bermuda in the '90s with the last wife)
We laid claim to the dock at Havensight - with the Epic being so big as to force other ships to Crown Bay
The tourists have arrived... time for the locals to start cranking-it-up for another day
Charlotte Amalie is a lovely place... at one time, many years ago, I toyed with moving here. On this extraordinarily hot/humid day I found myself grateful that I never acted on that wish.
Still, it's got an allure (at least for me)

As today marked our first return to a U.S. territory after traveling abroad, we each had to go through a Customs/Immigration inspection - conducted in the Bliss Lounge. My time was 8a (they schedule you based on shore excursions)... it was very quick & painless, after which I headed-down and waited on the dock at the designated spot for my other shipmate who would be golfing with me. Once he arrived we piled-into an Econoline Van and enjoyed the 20min or so ride to Mahogany Run. Once there, I got a nice rental set of stiff-shafted clubs - hit a few balls on the range - then the two of us made-way to the first tee and got this show on the road.

Seems I was the "A" golfer of this twosome... which isn't saying much given how little golf I play these days. REALLY enjoyed the course, but it's one of those that you need to play at least a couple of times (because of the extreme number of blind shots). I also was getting terrible rub-of-the-green that day: for example, on the Par 3 fourth hole, I was pin-high but pushed my tee shot perhaps 10'-15' right of the green. The rough wasn't that deep, yet we never found my ball - or my playing partner's ball, who'd hit a very similar shot. Weird.

By far the most scenic part of the course is their famed "Devil's Triangle" (holes 13, 14 & 15) - it was also a blessing because it provided the best breeze on a day with incredibly hot, humid, stagnant air. I remember thinking - at least twice - about a time in my life where I seriously toyed with chucking-it-all and moving here (to be the proverbial piano player in a whorehouse)... and how I am now so grateful that such a notion remained an unfulfilled dream!

First time I'd ever traveled to St Thomas as a single - which afforded a first play at the famed Mahogany Run Golf Club
So many blind shots - this was one of the few tee shots where you could actually hit towards your target (so, of course, I had to hit a push-fade and lose yet another golf ball)
This course has never heard of "rub of the green" - everything bounces badly. Pushed my first tee shot pin-high but right of the green; decided to hit another that landed dead center and a little short - but quickly careened right as well. Lost both balls :(
Both difficult AND scenic...
...although you'd never know it by this pro-quality approach shot (yes, I made the birdie - first of three on this day)
Much like my one-and-only play at Pebble Beach, it's hard to keep one's mind on the game with vistas like this
And this
Looking northward toward Jost Van Dyke, BVIs... anyone for a painkiller? :p
Tortola (BVI) on the left - St John (USVI) on the right - with water making me wonder if I should've brought my C-Card instead of a baggie of golf balls (the heat helped with that wonderment)
The famed 14th... having played a very similar hole in Bermuda my main thought was to guard against a pull hook. No problemo - pushed it right and left myself a very difficult chip shot...
...causing me to lie 3 to here. Oh well, bogeys are acceptable on a first look [however, my nine lost balls on the day was NOT acceptable :/ ]
Looking back towards the 14th tee... and about to get even hotter (as we entered the leeward part of the course)

By the time we finished the 18th, both of us were lightheaded and spent some time in the pro-shop cooling off (and, yes, we were properly hydrating - and consuming pretty much no alcohol). I would definitely love to play it again - although, preferable, on a day 10-15 degrees cooler! When we were again functional, the van reappeared to take us back to the ship - although I specifically asked to be let-off in town to do some shopping. As it is, I spent several hundred dollars in a place called Silver City - to help restock my kiddo's jewelry collection that had been lost in a burglary several months earlier (she wears only silver). Also bought her a set of bamboo sheets from Cariloha - then maxed-out my duty-free liquor allowance at A.H. Riise before returning everything to the Epic. Storing the booze (to be picked up on the final night) then dropping-off the other goodies in my cabin, I returned dockside to Senor Frogs for the Tex-Mex nachos I'd been wanting - along with a terribly oversized margarita!

Lots of cool little retail nooks 'n crannies in downtown Charlotte Amalie
If time permitted (and it did, because golf played much faster than I anticipated) I wanted to buy Jordan a bunch of new silver jewelry (as hers were all taken in a burglary last spring)
Buh-bye, Senor Frogs... and buh-bye, St Thomas!
My one opportunity for a really great view of the bow of this behemoth (which necessitated going back to my cabin yet again to retrieve a fresh camera battery
Afternoon in the harbor almost made me miss my sailboat. Almost...
One thing the Epic did not provide were credible nachos - so, Senor Frogs to the rescue (along with a thermos-size margarita)!

With quite the buzz goingI stumbled-back-aboard - not too much later, with the sun inching below the horizon, it was time to bid adieu to St. Thomas.

Headed aft to photograph our final sailaway of this Transatlantic Cruise
The lights of Charlotte Amalie bid us a farewell (camera trick - it was significantly darker than this when the shutter was tripped)

I obviously did NOT want a big dinner (after that plate of nachos) - so continued grazing late evening at O'Sheehan's when the mood struck me. It was now Halloween night - all kinds of decorations throughout the ship (including my own cabin door) - and I'd even brought a costume (ala Phantom Of The Opera)... but, the days heat - in concert with that monster margarita - saw me crash 'n burn shockingly early. Old guys do that ;)

 

Thursday, November 1, 2012 - A Day at Sea

As I recall, slept late (at least for me) and otherwise took it ease... tonight was the second Dress Up Or Not Night (again, I did not - one of the big selling points for NCL is that I don't have to do that crazy ritual as you must on other cruise lines... getting decked-out in a tux is NOT my idea of how to spend a vacation!). That said - I did intend this to be a special night (at least from a culinary standpoint): began it in The Atrium listening to Twice As Nice (I remember the guy had a stellar career with many notable R&B groups - just can't remember which as I type this), then went upstairs for our 7:30p reservation at Cagney's Steakhouse. I gorged: Oysters Rockefeller to start, then Lobster Bisque, then a Caesar Salad, then a VERY rare 12oz Rib Eye + Bernaise... accompanied with a big stuffed Baked Potato & Sauteed 'Shrooms... and finished-off with a Raspberry Creme Brulet (far and above the weakest link in this otherwise stellar menu) and a cognac.

My "grand finale" specialty restaurant visit of this cruise: Cagney's Steakhouse. Pictured is a (blue) rare 10oz filet. Some of the best beef I've ever eaten anywhere!

Stuffed-to-the-gills, at least I went back to my cabin to change into all-white garb for the "famous" NCL White Hot Party (in quotation marks because I found it to be an amateurish joke... the Cruise Director and some staff singing a bunch of disco-ish numbers while trying to entice patrons to dance... I stayed about 15min then left - and definitely won't bother bringing specific White Hot Party clothing for future NCL cruises). Only other thing going-on was an 11p performance by The Second City (supposedly late-night adult humor). I decided "what the heck?" - maybe they were just having an off night earlier in the cruise. They weren't. This troup just wasn't funny. Since all energies must've been channeled into that White Hot Party, the ship was otherwise dead - so I returned to my cabin and called it a night.

 

Friday, November 2, 2012 - A Day at Sea

Ahem... the last full day at sea... kinda sad, but it had bee a very good voyage that found me quite relaxed at this point. That afternoon we had truly lovely weather - allowing us to see many of the islands of the Bahamas to port. I finished reading my last book, slept, and just generally soaked-in the ambiance.

The final day at sea - with Eleuthera (Bahamas) in the distance to the right and off-camera right The final day at sea - kickin' back and just takin' it all in!

BTW, at 2p there was an Epic Crew Talent Show (in the Main Theatre) - I didn't attend, but caught a rebroadcast that night and it looked to be pretty good. Maybe next time.

At about 6, I went to the poolside towel cabana to retrieve my box of liquor purchased in St. Thomas - I then returned to my cabin where I carefully packed it (and the rest of my stuff) for the return home. I did plan on doing NCL's "Easy Walk-Off" (which turned-out to be a very accurate description) - so while I was prepared, there was no need to have the luggage out in the hallway by a certain hour (as is the case with other cruise lines).

After the previous night's "grand finale" dinner I decided to keep it simple: pub food at O'Sheehan's. Later that evening, I was coerced to finally playing Ross' piano at Shakers... with about a dozen of the CruiseCritic folk in attendance. My chops are pretty rough (which wouldn't be the case if I practiced regularly - though I'm not bad given how little I seem to play these days) but everyone seemed impressed. Attended Terrance B's Adult Late Night Hypnosis show in the Epic Theatre - it was funny, but I was again reminded (in the pre-show prep where everybody was supposedly hypnotized and he'd pick the most susceptible ones to bring-up on stage) that I don't seem all that susceptible. Still, a very fun way to wind-up this cruise.

As has become sort of a tradition for me, I got one last drink - very late that night - then went topside into the night air to smell the smells, look at the stars (yes, they were visible on this last night!), watch the lights from the other ships also making-way to Miami - and just try to take-it-all-in one last time. When my drink was finished, so was I - time to get a few hours sleep before commencing the long day of travel to return home.

 

Saturday, November 3, 2012 - Debarkation and Return Home to Los Angeles

Just over 5,000 nautical miles covered. And I'd do it again in a heartbeat!!

As I wrote earlier, NCL's "Easy Walk Off" was exactly that - the day began with a final breakfast buffet, then when they give the all clear you just walk-off the ship with your stuff. Customs was typically easy - hand them your Declarations Form & Passport, then a couple seconds later you're waved-through. I hopped-aboard one of the many shared vans (waiting to be filled - no reservation needed) that took us quickly to MIA. Despite cruise lines warnings to never book your return flight before noon, I was there WAY too early... waiting nearly three hours before boarding my 11:40am United flight (to Houston, where I connected to my flight to LAX). Luggage made it with me just fine, and my daughter picked-me-up to fully return me back to real life.

 

Conclusion

So what did I think of my inaugural sailing with Norwegian Cruise Lines? Let me put it this way: about a third of the way in, I purchased two future cruise vouchers (one of which I'm utilizing in Oct 2013 for a Panama Canal Transit aboard NCL's Pearl). BTW, those vouchers are a heckuva marketing deal in-and-of themselves: you're charged $250 per voucher, but then $150 is immediately credited to your house account... making the net cost for each just $100!

In short, I really liked NCL - stellar food, service, ship. As I mentioned earlier, this Transatlantic Repositioning has a lot of repeat guests... as somebody who doesn't like repeating vacations, I didn't really "get" why that was the case - but I do now. It's terribly relaxing - much moreso than a typical cruise. I can see myself doing it again. Definitely. Only thing different next time is that I'll budget a couple more days for Barcelona. Loved that town, but don't feel that I've even scratched the surface.

There were some sailing the Epic for the first time that found it too large... too "impersonal". Tastes vary, I suppose - that wasn't my reaction at all... in fact, I appreciated this oversized vessel for the myriad of options available to passengers (as well as the supremely smooth ride). One of them specifically mentioned preferring the class of NCL ships like my upcoming trip on the Pearl - guess I'll get to experience, very soon, whatever it was she preferred.

Negatives? Only the Laundry fiasco - otherwise, I've got no complaints... nor suggestions as to what they could do to improve. It was all really first-rate!

Map - NCL Epic Transatlantic Repositioning Cruise

   
 

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