Take An Epic Miami Family Cruise Vacation

By Nancy Schretter, Editor

Parents are continually looking for family vacations that are fun for the kids, easy to plan, and offer an exciting vacation for adults as well. With their new Epic megaship, Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) serves up tons of family travel fun for every member of the family. If you're looking for loads of fun-packed entertainment on your next family vacation, this family-friendly cruise option is sure to please. In addition, the Epic's Miami departure point makes it the perfect base for an extended family trip.

At 153,000 tons in size, the Norwegian Epic is one of the largest ships at sea – and it's designed with families in mind. Thanks to NCL's partnership with Nickelodeon, kids and their parents can interact with SpongeBob, Dora the Explorer, Diego and all their pals at character breakfasts and at other activities. And, of course – there are always opportunities to get slimed during family contests and games.

Think of the Norwegian Epic as a ship filled with endless entertainment possibilities for both kids and adults. In addition to Nickelodeon, guests can enjoy performances of the Blue Man Group – a first at sea. There's also the Second City Comedy Troupe, Legends in Concert with impersonators of performers like Tina Turner and Elvis, Cirque Dreams & Dinner, Howl at the Moon Dueling Pianos Show, and other favorites. And that's just the beginning of all this ship has in store. There are also six bowling lanes, three huge waterslides, an ice skating rink, a 31,000 square foot spa, a rock climbing and rapelling wall, and much, much more. On the Norwegian Epic, entertainment is king. There's something for everyone here.

In addition to loads of entertainment, families will enjoy a relaxed style of vacation fun. With Freestyle Cruising, there are no schedules or dress codes to adhere to on the Epic. Guests can enjoy over twenty dining venues including some all-time NCL favorites. Teppanyaki is often one of the first specialty restaurants to fill up, as limited seating is available. Chefs entertain guests as they cook and the food is delicious. This restaurant is particularly popular with families and large groups.

Le Bistro and Cagney's Steakhouse are also top choices. Le Bistro has a French/European menu while Cagney's is modeled after a traditional American steakhouse. In my opinion, both are well worth the small surcharges. Cirque Dreams & Dinner, an interactive theatrical dining experience under the big top circus tent, is another memorable dining venue. The acrobatic entertainment is outstanding. At over two hours long, however, the experience may be too lengthy for some younger children.

Families will also appreciate some of the Epic's other dining options, such as the casual dining on the main pool deck. There's even a Kids Café area with little tables and chairs. Room service is also available 24-hours a day aboard the Norwegian Epic and many guests take advantage of this chance to pamper themselves as well.

Norwegian Cruise Line won a prestigious travel industry award for "Best Contemporary Cruise Ship Design Overall" for the innovative Epic – as well as several more awards in the stateroom category. The Epic's luxurious villas are outstanding. There is an extensive array of accommodation options for families and multigenerational groups onboard this ship. Families can choose from large suites and villas with multiple bedrooms, 61 family mini-suites, 263 family balcony staterooms with room for three or four, and connecting staterooms. In a departure from standard cruise ship design, the Epic's staterooms are wave-shaped with lots of storage space and open areas. Bathrooms and showers are separately located in compartments near the stateroom entry area and the sink stands alone in the room's open space – all of which can result in some potentially awkward moments. Plan to assign shower time and put a towel down in front of the sink.

One of my favorite spots on the Epic is the beautiful Mandara Spa, which also received a travel industry award for spa design. The spa offers a wide variety of treatments and luxurious treatment rooms, including two couples' villas and two solo villas with private outdoor whirlpools. Make sure to get a pass for the Epic's Thermal Suite with its huge hydrotherapy courtyard and heated ceramic loungers. Only a limited number of passes are available, so sign up quickly.

Fun For Kids

The Norwegian Epic's kids and teens amenities are in keeping with the ship's name - grand indeed. Recess, the Epic's Kids Crew facility for children 2-12, is 7,000 square-feet in size. That's huge - about 2 ½ times the size of the Kids Crew clubs on other NCL ships. The area within Recess is divided by age group, which will make older kids very happy. Tweens ages 10-12 will have fun in their own space that includes multiple Wii and PlayStation 3 consoles, a karaoke stage which doubles as a theater, and more. Younger children ages 2-9 can enjoy games and activities in their own area complete with arts and crafts tables, Wii gaming areas, an outer-space themed area, climb-through play spaces, a cinema with surround sound and more. Remember – children as young as two can participate in NCL's Kids Crew programs as long as they are potty trained. Kids with special needs are also welcomed.

Teens ages 13 through 17 have their own space atop the ship called Entourage. Staffed with hip youth counselors, Entourage is equipped with multiple flat screen televisions, PlayStation 3 video game consoles, air hockey, pinball, foosball, a video jukebox and more. At night, it turns into a teens-only nightclub with space for dancing and hanging out with friends.

In addition to all these kids-only activities, there are also a host of fun activities that parents and kids can do together. These include the Nickelodeon games and contests, shows such as Slime Time Live, t-shirt painting, pizza making, ice skating, bowling, and more. NCL was the first to feature bowling at sea and there are three lanes each in Bliss Ultra Lounge and O'Sheehan's Neighborhood Bar & Grill. The shipboard sports court is also a great spot for family games of soccer, basketball or volleyball. In addition, the Mandara Spa offers packages such as Mother/Daughter Paradise Massages as well as kids and teens treatments.

The Epic's Aqua Park was extremely popular with families and kids on my cruise. NCL won a pool design award for this feature and it's well deserved. This huge waterpark area consists of three waterslides, two small pools, five whirlpools, and a kids' Splash and Play Zone complete with wading pool, water sprays, and kids pool. Of the Aqua Park's three waterslides, the Epic Plunge was definitely my favorite. This is the only bowl slide at sea, using inner tubes and providing a thrilling 200-foot drop. Lines form to pick up the inner tubes, so get there early for maximum ride time.

Extend Your Vacation in Miami

There's so much to do on the Norwegian Epic that you might need a vacation when you return to Miami. These pre- and post-cruise resort stays are becoming increasingly popular with families. With the prevalence of flight delays and cancellations, many parents prefer to arrive in Miami several nights before departure to decompress and enjoy the beach. Others opt to stay at a Miami area resort after the cruise to extend their family time together. You'll win either way.

Families seeking an expansive beach resort should plan a stay at the Boca Raton Resort & Club. Situated on 356 acres in Boca Raton, the Boca Raton Resort & Club has everything a family could want in a luxurious vacation. The property features multiple venues for accommodations; numerous dining options; a half-mile of private beach with watersports; two 18-hole championship golf courses; 30 tennis courts; the world-class Spa Palazzo; 7 pools; 3 fitness centers; a 32-slip marina with fishing and boating facilities; and lots of fun family activities. Camp Boca, the resort's day camp, provides creative half- and full-day supervised activities for children ages 3-12. One of the coolest places for families to stay on the property is the casually elegant Boca Beach Club with 212 custom designed guest rooms located directly on the Atlantic Ocean. No matter where you stay, the kids will love vacationing at the Boca Raton Resort either before or after your cruise. In fact, I met four or five other families during my stay who were also joining my Epic cruise and all had wonderful things to say about the "pink palace," as one of the littlest guests called the resort. It's a hip family playground for adults and children of all ages.

For those who wish to stay in close-in South Beach, The Betsy provides a special treat. This small boutique hotel is located across the street from the beach on famed Ocean Drive. The property provides the perfect home base to explore all that Miami and South Beach have to offer pre- or post-cruise. The Betsy's 61 rooms are little havens of low-key luxury and its suites are perfect for family vacationing. Service is the hallmark of this property and the staff goes out of its way to deliver special touches to make The Betsy your family's "home away from home" during your stay. The white sand beach opposite The Betsy is long and wide with a gradual entry into the Atlantic. Beach chairs and umbrellas are available for guests. For a special evening out, make sure to have dinner at BLT Steak, the hotel's fine dining restaurant.

If You Go:

  • For more information on Norwegian Cruise Line, visit www.ncl.com, call 1-866-234-7350, or contact your favorite travel agent.
  • To book a stay at the Boca Raton Resort & Club or for more information, visit www.bocaresort.com or call 1-888-543-1277.
  • For bookings at The Betsy or for more information, visit www.thebetsyhotel.com or call 1-866-792-3879.

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