This was the second time I had the pleasure of the EPIC and the first as a solo. I was much more impressed with the EPIC this time. Loved her the first time, but after having more time onboard, was able to find even better reviews and places and entertainment. The fact I was solo, also meant I discovered the exclusive studio staterooms and lounge.
I am only 26. Quite young for a solo cruiser. I travel solo as a it means I can do exactly what I want, but more importantly I don't have many family or friends who could afford a journey like this.
I booked the cruise, as a fly cruise package, including flights with British Airways, transfers between the airport, hotel and port, a pre-cruise hotel, and porter fees at the hotel and at the port. A Very good package. I booked this through a local travel agent when they were offering 10% off.
I flew to Miami the night before. A very nice flight, well served by British Airways staff. At the airport I was met by a NCL rep and transported to an airport hotel. (Sofitel Miami). This was a lovely hotel, room only, but had a starbucks in the foyer, outdoor pool, bar and restaurant. I believe there was also a fitness center. A shopping center was about 10 minute walk away. I was only here for 1 night and I was satisfied. The hotel also had a NCL rep who explained the procedure for embarking the cruise in the morning, and shuttle bus time.
The next morning the hotel foyer was filled with passengers for the cruise buses. We were transferred to the port arriving around 12. It was unclear at the terminal where to go. On my documentation I had down a terminal for check in, but this was closed. As the ship was only half full I anticipated that one terminal was closed for this. There was a queue for security of about 30 minutes, but check in was quick. Unfortunately I wasn't directed to the latitudes check in. (I was entitled to). I somehow missed picking up a daily - noted passengers carrying these after security, asked and got one at check in. Was able to board the ship straight after check in. Had the cringing picture before getting on board... wish I could opt out of these.
We embark the ship on deck 6 by the theatre. Met by officers welcoming you to the ship. Very nice atmosphere.
Sooo, what facilities:
The EPIC has pretty much everything you could ever need for a lengthy vacation:
Mandara Spa and salon, fitness center
2 pools on the main pool deck, 1 pool in Spice H20 - bar at the back, adults only
About 6-7 Jacuzzis, a couple adult only
3 water slides
2 main dining rooms, Irish bar (24 hour food) and 2 buffets (indoor/outdoor) all complimentary.
Various locations for complimentary drinks: tea, coffee, some fruit juices - available all day on this cruise, iced tea and water.
Cake and pastries - complimentary from the atrium cafe
Amazing entertainment - Blue man group, legends, howl at the moon, jeff hobson, slam allen, twice as nice, and various other entertainment - music, comedy, improvisation.. lots and lots!
Private access to studio lounge (for passengers in studio cabins)
Could purchase access to POSH (haven area)
Art gallery and auctions
Cruise consultants available
Gift and liquor shops
etc etc etc
Stateroom: I was in a studio stateroom. Ideal for solo travellers. On some cruises these are cheaper for a solo guest on others slightly more expensive. I view these as a upgrade to a inside stateroom as:
-They have mood lighting
- Lovely toilet/shower area
- Free chocolate every evening
- private access to the studio lounge - the only place for getting complimentary cappuccino, espresso based drinks, cakes/pastries/continental breakfast. This is an ideal space to meet fellow solo travellers and was the location of the daily solo travellers gathering. A very well used space. There was also a bar here, open during the evening.
- the daily towel animal guessing game in the stateroom each evening was fun.
The service on the ship was second to none. This stood out more than my previous cruise. The staff seemed willing to serve all the time. Anticipated needs well. And ALL staff even if walking past will say hello, INCLUDING officers. The officers were very visible and approachable. Several meet and mingles took place during our cruise, the officers even attended the cruise critic meet and mingle. For the cruise critic lunch, a chefs table special menu was created, which is part of the menu for the special captains table meals... very very impressed! I also noted several passengers were offered free bottles of wine, when enquiring at guest services about separate issues even if not complaining. This was especially true of passengers who were on back to back cruises. I totally believe NCL looks after its guests well.
I only ate in complimentary dining options, there were numerous speciality restaurants but I didn't feel the need for these as the food was AMAZING!! I ate half and half between the main dining room, and the buffet and 24 hour bar O'sheehans. The menus seemed to be quite mixed, only issue for me was lack of Indian curry options in the main dining rooms, and lack of really spicy dishes. A comment could be made the English style fish and chips is nothing like the real thing... but it was all good quality and I didn't leave any food behind on my plate!
Entertainment: Many complimentary options, a few with charges (second city murder mystery and cirque dreams) I was disappointed Blue Man show was exactly the same, so would prefer that show to be revamped with new content. There was an amazing magician on our ship - Jeff Hobson, now cruising NCL and alaska I believe. And many amazing musical acts, all very good. I didn't feel the legends show was upto scratch, was extremely disappointed by the adult feel of the madonna act, and would prefer this to be scaled back to be more family friendly.
Activities: LOTS to do on boards, several things on every hour as per the freestyle daily listings. Game shows, talent shows, cooking demonstrations, quizzes, special interest groups... you name it you got it (or can suggest it) A very good team of cruise directors. The highlight for me was the solo travellers gathering lead by Meaghan. Only comment, lets meet just after lunch on a sea day so we can spend MORE time planning activities together, and later on a sailaway day as sailaway often clashed with the meeting.
Pool area: I agree the pools could be quicker, but on my cruise perfectly adequate (I didn't go on the cruise to go swimming). Plenty of Jacuzzis, water slides had no queues. Easy to find loungers on this cruise (half capacity ship).
Weather; The sea and weather conditions were very good for a TA. WE had a couple of days of windy and choppy conditions, but otherwise, cloudy, temperature mid 20C but due to breeze did give enough sunlight strength for tanning.
Port Stop: Ponta Delgada Azores. Highly recommended stop. A unspoilt, island. Wonderful landscape. Ship docks right in the town, so no need for excursion if not required. I took an excursion for $59, took me to pineapple plantation, garden, and several crater lakes. We had a clear day - amazing landscape! Would love to revisit. The excursion, allowed enough time at the end to shop and get souvenirs. Disembarkment was quick, embarkment was quick. There was a alcohol drop off zone.
I would definitely do this cruise again. The cost is less than a 7 day itinerary on EPIC and you get more time onboard. Very good value, and as the ship rarely sails full on this itinerary more space to enjoy the facilities without the ship feeling too full. I was able to buy a cruise reward onboard and I'm trying to work out if I want to book the TA next year (via Marseilles) or to try one of NCL's older ships without the studio concept... its a tricky choice. Definitely do the TA if you haven't had chance.