Bunny’s Southern Caribbean Cruise on Norwegian Epic
As Bunny is typing this, practically all cruise ship traffic around the world has come to a halt because of the coronavirus. At the moment, on a cruise ship is probably one of the last places people would choose to be.
Not that cruising has a good reputation normally either. Cruising is regularly referred to as a tacky and environmentally unfriendly way of travelling, mostly suited for older, non-adventurous, buffet-loving people. Bunny begs to differ.
There is certainly room for improved environmental practices, but otherwise Bunny cannot help but love cruising! Her style of cruising, that is, which means avoiding people, organised tours, speciality restaurants, deck-side entertainment and gambling… Is there anything left to do while cruising, you might wonder.
Read below how Bunny tackled her 7-day Southern Caribbean cruise on Norwegian Epic last December.
Southern Caribbean Cruise
Bunny’s 7-day Southern Caribbean Cruise from San Juan, Puerto Rico, was actually a back-to-back cruise. Bunny had just finished a two-week Transatlantic voyage on Norwegian Epic (blog post coming soon!) and stayed onboard for another week to cruise the turquoise waters of the Southern Caribbean.
Bunny chose Norwegian Epic because of its interesting itinerary, attractive pricing and the convenience of not having to change ships between the two cruises.
Day 1: Departure from San Juan, Puerto Rico
Day 2: At sea
Day 3: Aruba
Day 4: Curacao
Day 5: At sea
Day 6: St. Lucia
Day 7: St. Kitts and Nevis
Day 8: Return to San Juan, Puerto Rico
Day 1: San Juan, Puerto Rico
Bunny started the cruise on a high note. She and Mr. Bunny stayed on the ship, with a handful of other passengers, while the rest of the Transatlantic guests disembarked in Puerto Rico.
Initially, Bunny had planned on hopping around San Juan on that day, but she cancelled her plans when she realised what kind of fiasco the disembarkation process was. It was halted a number of times during the morning (apparently due to congestion at the luggage terminal) and people were sitting everywhere around the ship, including on the floor, waiting to be let out.
Finally, around 1pm, a zero count was achieved. At this time, Bunny and the other back-to-back cruisers went through the border formalities inside one of the ship’s restaurants. Stress-fee and easy!
Then it was a glorious few hours when the Bunnies basically had the ship to themselves before the new guests arrived. The sun was shining, the drinks were flowing and the whole ship was their playground.
They hopped around, tested all the water slides, lay in the hot tubs while sampling different drinks and enjoyed the peace and quiet you almost never get to experience on a ship of this size. It was truly lovely.
Although Bunny was doing back-to-back cruises, she didn’t have the luxury of staying in the same stateroom for both cruises.
For the Southern Caribbean cruise, Bunny had reserved a guaranteed balcony stateroom, which is the cheapest balcony option, but doesn’t give you the choice to pick the actual room you prefer. For Bunny, the location of the room was not that important, provided it had a balcony as Bunny would feel totally claustrophobic in an inside or sea view only stateroom.
To Bunny’s delight, she was assigned balcony stateroom 8212, which was an aft-facing room (the rear-end of the ship). All Norwegian Epic’s staterooms have a quasi open-plan design which means that the toilet, shower and washbasin are located separately from each other. Many people love it, while others hate it. Bunny was very pleased with the room layout and the size of the balcony.
The Bunnies got access to their stateroom fairly quickly on the first day and the room stewards flawlessly brought the luggage from their previous stateroom, so all was in order.
The slow embarkation continued the whole first day of the cruise. The Bunnies went for an early dinner at the Manhattan Dining Room and enjoyed a great meal, very friendly service, good wine and chocolate lava cake (yummy!) for dessert.
Afterwards, they sampled some drinks at the Martini Bar and went to the Comedy Club for their first of many nights of onboard stand-up comedy.
The compulsory first day safety drill finally happened at 10:30pm, due to delayed embarkation. For the same reason, the ship did not sail out of San Juan at 9pm as originally scheduled, but stayed in port for the night.
Day 2: At Sea
The second day of the cruise was a sea day, with no scheduled stops.
Bunny is normally not too keen on sea days. She cruises to see and experience new places, not to spend time on the ship. She is not a gambler, she doesn’t go to any speciality restaurants (which charge a premium), she doesn’t use the spa services and isn’t really interested in any of the fun or games offered onboard. So, what to do?
Bunny usually spends the sea days reading on her balcony, going to the gym and checking out the sea views. This is pretty much how the day unfolded this time as well.
The Bunnies slept until 8am but were still among the first guests at breakfast. It definitely seemed to be a late-rising crowd. Bunny enjoyed her healthy al fresco breakfast oatmeal and fruit (berries had reappeared after a Transatlantic dearth). Afterwards, the Bunnies spent some time training at the ship’s excellent gym and relaxing on their balcony.
For the more outgoing type, a Mr. Sexy legs competition was organised at the pool deck. Yikes! Definitely not something Bunny would enjoy. There was also the possibility to meet Captain Marco Quartesan in the Atrium in the evening. The Bunnies had managed to sail across the Atlantic without meeting the man, so they skipped this opportunity as well.
Cirque de Soleil
In the evening, the Bunnies went to see a special Cirque Dreams Epicurean show in the Spiegel Tent (they had booked the tickets the day before). The show had been created by Broadway Director and Cirque Dreams founder Neil Goldberg, and it was very impressive, particularly taking into consideration the limited space and the swaying ship.
The Bunnies thoroughly enjoyed the show and managed to avoid any dreaded audience participation. The show was well worth the extra cost, Bunny says.
The Cirque de Soleil show also included a three-course dinner (the food was quite good!) so afterwards the Bunnies headed straight for another dose of stand-up comedy by Jorge Marroquin. A very funny guy.
Norwegian’s night out dance party on the outer H2O deck at 10:30pm was way too late for the lame Bunnies - they were soundly in bed by that time.
Day 3: Oranjestad, Aruba (8:00 am - 8:00 pm)
The first port of call on Bunny’s Southern Caribbean cruise was Aruba. It was Bunny’s first visit to the island (or to any of the so-called ABC islands).
Bunny is categorically against shore excursions organised by the cruise ship (check Bunny’s blog post on How to Organise Cruise Shore Excursions) and desperate to avoid crowded places. In Aruba, she decided to keep things simple and headed straight to one of the island’s legendary beaches: Eagle Beach.
Bunny had done her research in advance, so she knew that it was easy to get to Eagle Beach from the cruise ship port by public transportation. No special taxi tours or other arrangements are needed.
After an early breakfast, the Bunnies walked out of the ship and onwards to the Arubus bus terminal, two blocks from the port. After a short wait at the bus station, the Bunnies hopped on the bus (number 10) and rode 5 kilometres to Eagle Beach. There is a bus stop right at the beach so traveling there independently could not have been easier, Bunny says.
Eagle Beach is a beautiful, long beach lined with mainly low-rise resorts. The sand is white and soft, and the beach is quite wide. It has been rated as one of the best beaches in the Caribbean and what’s best, it is open to the public at no charge.
Bunny chose Eagle Beach instead of its more famous sister beach, Palm Beach, because it was supposed to have a quieter vibe. And, indeed, Eagle Beach was almost empty when the Bunnies arrived. They rented a thatched palapa and beach chairs and enjoyed a couple of hours of peace and solitude in their gorgeous surroundings before more people started appearing.
As an unexpected bonus, there was free, public Wi-Fi that worked well. Across the road, it was possible to buy beers and food, so the Bunnies were well catered for while spending time at the beach.
Aruba is most famous for its dazzling white beaches, but Bunny wanted to see a bit of Oranjestad, its capital, too. The Bunnies made their way back to the port in the early afternoon and walked around the touristic part of town. It was quite cute but very commercialised and full of shops selling the kind of tourist trinkets that Bunny has zero interest in. But she did enjoy her first Starbucks coffee in more than two weeks at the seaport marina before returning to the ship.
Back onboard, Bunny felt brave and wanted to try extreme rock climbing, but Mr. Bunny persuaded her against it citing all those beers at the beach… Instead, the Bunnies just chilled on their balcony watching the ship slowly pull away from Aruba in the early evening.
Day 4: Willemstad, Curacao (8:00 am - 8:00 pm)
The next stop was Curacao – a Dutch island only 65km off the Venezuelan coast. Bunny had never visited and decided to splurge a little, booking a private jeep tour ahead of her visit. She organized this entirely herself, of course. She had stumbled across Samurai Curacao online and this small company seemed to be a good choice for an individualized tour of the island.
The Bunnies met Nicole from Samurai Curaco just outside the port in Willemstad and headed out for a day of adventure. Bunny had exchanged emails with Nicole in advance and explained their preferences and wishes for the day, and Nicole designed a perfect itinerary based on Bunny’s guidance.
The Bunnies had expressed an interest to see some wildlife, so the first quick stop was at the salt lakes near Jan Kok. This is a spot where flocks of pink flamingos usually congregate. The birds were a bit shy on the day of Bunny’s visit but regardless it was great to be able to observe them from the platform and learn a bit about them.
Next up was snorkeling at the “pig beach” - Playa Porto Marie. The Bunnies loved the calm waters and the reef just off the beach. The famous pigs did not make an appearance but were later spotted having a mud bath just outside the parking lot. Bunny was kind of happy that she didn’t have to share her snorkelling spot with the pigs after having seen the size of these beasts.
The next snorkelling stop, Playa Santu Pretu, was more of a secret spot that required a short hike through the forest. The Bunnies loved it! It was a pretty and isolated black sand beach with a great reef and interesting sea life, with absolutely no other visitors around. Perfection!
Lunch was enjoyed at a cute little place (La Bahia Restaurant) by the sea, with lovely views to the beach down below. There were also a number of friendly iguanas hanging around during their meal of which Bunny was happy to snap a lot of photos.
Playa Kenepa Grandi, with impossibly turquoise waters and beautiful views, was the next stop. The Bunnies skipped swimming there because in her excitement Bunny stumbled and broke her only pair of sandals. Nicole took the Bunnies to Sambil Mall for some quick flipflop shopping before they continued onwards to the south of the island, checking out some fabulous scenery on the way.
At the end of the tour, Nicole dropped the Bunnies off at Willemstad as they wanted to explore the colourful capital on foot before returning to the ship. Bunny loved the vibe and the pastel-coloured colonial architecture of Willemstad. It was very easy to spend a couple of hours there, just wandering around and soaking up the atmosphere, and, of course, taking a stroll on the floating Queen Emma Bridge.
Late afternoon, the Bunnies were ready to walk back to the ship (very easy to do in Willemstad), thoroughly pleased and satisfied with their day. Nicole had been very friendly and knowledgeable about the island, so the Bunnies had also learned a lot during their enjoyable private tour. It was a perfect combination of island exploration, wildlife, snorkeling and sightseeing, with thoughtful extras such as cold drinks and fruit offered by Nicole at various points of their itinerary.
Back at the ship, it was a Mexican theme night which is always a big favourite with the Bunnies. They went to eat as soon as the buffet opened so it was very quiet. The food was excellent and spicy, and the Coronas were ice cold. What else could you wish for? Well, maybe a long, private session in the hot tub afterwards while all the other passengers were indoors, enjoying their dinner later than the Bunnies. This is precisely why Bunny enjoys cruising “counter-clockwise”. She revels in doing the opposite of the herd.
The only negative for the day was a late night announcement that there was no Wi-Fi, and that it wouldn’t reappear until the next stop in St. Lucia. A bit of a bummer for someone like Bunny who is (perhaps) slightly addicted to being online 24/7.
Day 5: At Sea
The original itinerary of Bunny’s cruise included a stop in Bonaire but that was scrapped some weeks before the start of the cruise. Admittedly, Bunny was disappointed to miss Bonaire but apparently these things happen with cruises. So, day 5 was to be a day at sea…
The Bunnies took it easy, spending most of the time on their balcony, going to the gym again, reading and working on their various online ventures (Wi-Fi had reappeared!). After two busy days exploring, it was actually quite a welcome change to recharge their batteries and gradually prepare for the next port of call.
In the evening, the Bunnies went to see the musical, Priscilla Queen of the Desert . Bunny was aware that it was based on an international hit movie but knew nothing else about it in advance. It was a great production, with slightly outrageous bits, dazzling costumes and excellent music. The Bunnies were surprised how much they ended up enjoying it.
Day 6: St. Lucia, Saint Lucia (12:30 pm 7:30 pm)
The next stop was St. Lucia. Bunny had no special plans for shore excursions as she had spent some time on the island before. In addition, the stop was scheduled to be a short one. However, when the ship arrived in St. Lucia hours before anticipated, Bunny started to rethink her approach and decided to see what was possible on the day…
In the mayhem of the cruise port, Bunny did her best to try and avoid all the eager tour vendors. Then another passenger approached the Bunnies asking if they wanted to join a tour which needed a couple more participants to go ahead. Bunny first thought it was a scam (always her first reaction) but luckily it proved to be a completely legitimate offer.
Papa Boat Tours
So, very uncharacteristically, Bunny decided to join the group of 10 people to go snorkeling on a speed boat with Papa Boat Tours. She knew nothing of the company but the lure of snorkelling in the Soufriere area, which she knew to be excellent, was too enticing to pass up.
And it turned out to be an absolutely fantastic day! There were two snorkeling stops, first at Sugar Beach, with a breathtaking view of the famous pitons, and another one at Anse Chastanet. Both were gorgeous beaches with excellent snorkeling and decent facilities.
It was also really impressive to experience St. Lucia from a boat, rather than spending hours in crowded minivans going around the island. Free-flowing (and absolutely delicious!) rum punch and cold beers made sure everyone onboard was in a good mood for the duration of the trip. The friendly boat guys also organised lunch deliveries to the beach (even catering for vegetarian Leporidae), so Bunny and the others were all very well taken care of during the day.
A short stop at Marigot Bay, the “James Bond beach”, at the end of the trip, crowned a perfect trip. The Bunnies returned to the ship among the last passengers, very happy with the time they had spent in St. Lucia and determined to return one day.
Day 7: Basseterre, Saint Kitts - Nevis (9:00 am 4:00 pm)
The last port of call on Bunny’s cruise was St. Kitts and Nevis. Bunny was planning to do a short taxi tour of the island or spend a day at the beach, but, again, she had made no definite plans in advance.
Arriving in Basseterre, the capital and largest city on the island, was a bit of a mess with eager hawkers surrounding the disembarking passengers from all sides. Bunny hates that kind of scene and just marched forward purposefully, firmly ignoring all the hustlers, although she didn’t have a clue of where she was going.
Eventually, she ended up at a parking lot where a lone taxi driver was quietly waiting by his car. Bunny decided to approach him and negotiated a price to go to Cockleshell Bay in the southeast corner of the island. From Bunny’s earlier research, it seemed like an attractive option for someone looking for a quiet beach.
The route to the beach was very picturesque and the taxi driver stopped at a scenic location for some photos. This was much appreciated by Bunny.
The beach itself was not overly thrilling - Bunny admits she’s been spoiled when it comes to beaches - but it was quiet, clean and low key. There were a couple of beach shacks which rented chairs and umbrellas and a reggae bar that ended up doing a brisk business during the day.
The mountains in the background and the views towards Nevis were gorgeous. Swimming in the calm waters was lovely. The Bunnies had no trouble passing a couple of hours at the beach before the taxi driver duly returned on time to take them back to Basseterre.
By this point, the Bunnies had cruised for more than 3 weeks uninterrupted and could not care less about the tourist shops in the port. As a result, they returned to the ship early and enjoyed a lovely three-course dinner at the Taste restaurant on their last evening on the ship.
It had been a wonderful, active, indulgent, somewhat boozy and adventurous cruising week in the Caribbean. Just as it should be.
Bunny’s Cruising Tips
- Get a balcony stateroom. You will appreciate the extra space and comfort during the cruise. Not to mention the direct photo opportunities from your balcony. Bunny also feels safer and less claustrophobic with a balcony.
- Organise your own shore excursions. There is no need for overpriced, crowded tours specifically geared towards cruise ship passengers.
- Cruise at unpopular times. You will avoid the worst of the crowds and ships overflowing with children (Bunny shudders just at the thought).
- Be a contrarian. Wake up, dine, swim, drink and go to bed at different times than the majority of other passengers. You will enjoy a much quieter, calmer experience as a result.
- If you are vegetarian, stick with the buffet. Bunny knows “buffet” is often a dirty word but not on a decent cruise ship. There is no need to bother with the speciality restaurants which are not good value for you in Bunny’s humble opinion.
- Get a drinks package. You only live once.
How Much Does it Cost?
Cruising can be quite affordable or very expensive, depending on how you prefer to cruise. You can easily spend as much money onboard as you have paid for your tickets. Needless to say, Bunny is a contrarian in this respect as well, taking it as a challenge to keep her “extras” bill onboard as low as possible.
Before the cruise
- Cruise tickets per person, including taxes and drinks package: 820 USD
- Mandatory tips onboard: 15 USD per day x 7 = 105 USD
- Bunny’s onboard expenditure (Circue de Soleil show): 40 USD
Independent excursions (price per person)
- Aruba bus fare to the beach, beers and Starbucks coffee: 20 USD
- Curacao private tour, including lunch: 115 USD
- Catamaran trip in St. Lucia, including lunch: 100 USD
- Shared taxi fare to the beach in St. Kitts and Nevis, beers on the beach: 20 USD
Grand total: 1,220 USD
For Bunny, this represented good value for a full week of fun and adventure, great service, excellent facilities and entertainment, delicious food and drinks and the possibility of visiting and exploring four different countries in the Southern Caribbean.
Although Bunny was only lukewarm about Norwegian Epic as a ship (she found the indoor areas a bit cramped and dark), she had a fantastic time on the cruise. She liked her aft-facing balcony stateroom, found the staff and facilities of the ship excellent and was quite pleased with the freestyle dining options included in the cruise fare.
The best part of the cruise was the itinerary, with four exotic ports of call. The feeling of waking up in a new port (almost) every morning is the kind of excitement Bunny is looking for in her travels. Cruising is probably the most effortless way of achieving this.
Ignore the snobbish eye-rolls of your friends and colleagues and start planning a cruise today (well, once COVID is bested), Bunny says!