I just got off of a 5-day cruise on the Norwegian Epic. The itinerary was out of Barcelona and stopped off in Marseille and Palma de Mallorca before making its way back to Barcelona.
This was my second cruise in as many years, the first being on RCCL's Adventure of the Seas with a similar Western Med itinerary (which I certainly enjoyed - turning me into 'a cruiser'). Nevertheless, the Norwegian Epic blew the Adventure of the Seas out of the proverbial water! Of course, the newness of all the furnishings leant it a lustrous appeal... but that's not the only thing.
I walked across the bridge from Barcelona to the cruise terminal because (a) I couldn't find the port bus and (b) it didn't look nearly as long of a walk as it was. It was a LONG walk. Find the port bus. It leaves from a stop just south of La Rambla.
The queues inside were short, and there was tea, coffee, water and lemonade available for guests, along with the first day's schedule and a pocket ship guide. I didn't wait long to actually get on the boat, so I didn't even have time to enjoy the complimentary drinks, but they were a nice touch nonetheless.
The general layout of all its guest areas was just really well done. At first, the lack of grand, open spaces made me a bit wary - there was no Royal Promenade here. Instead, all the bars, restaurants, shopping and entertainment areas lined three floors, with interconnecting stairwells throughout. I was a bit disappointed by this at first - I won't lie - but the very clever design of this guest hub resulted in a buzzy atmosphere at almost all hours without any guest congestion. I can't count the number of times I got held up in a crowd of guests trying to walk through the Royal Promenade on RCCL's Adventure of the Seas.
The plethora of sun areas ensured that every guest could find a place to soak up the sun, if not all around the immediate pool area. The adult-only pool area at the back of the ship was generally constructed in a way that minimised the wind - which was a welcome respite on this very windy itinerary.
I snagged one of the spa passes for the length of my cruise, and I was glad I did. There is nothing quite so relaxing as sitting in a sauna overlooking the sea going by through its floor-to-ceiling windows. The termal bath and jacuzzi could have been a bit warmer, but I find this to be the case in most resort/spas, not just NCL, certainly. I guess I just like 'em hot. The lounger areas in the outside area of the spa, at the back of the ship, were lovely, the alcove providing sanctuary from the whipping winds. It was a perfect way to relax - that is, when big groups of people who got day passes to the spa weren't being loud, taking pictures and opening and closing the doors to the outside area repeatedly. This isn't NCL's fault, of course.
I had an inside stateroom. Yes, it was compact. But it had loads of storage space, nice mirrors and a lovely bed. And it was king-sized! That's bigger than my bed at home. And more comfortable. The bedding was nothing short of (affordable) luxury. NCL certainly hasn't skimped in this department.
If your partner won't have sex with you ever again because you have to poop, you have relationship problems.
If you love your partner despite this, choose one of the hundreds of toilets throughout the rest of the ship, which you'll often find completely empty, if you're really concerned about it.
So good. The Blue Man Group almost made me pee myself. Howl at the Moon was good fun - not as raunchy and therefore amazing as brick-and-mortar Howl at the Moons in America - but entertaining nonetheless; I suspect the European market didn't quite understand the sing-along aspect. The blues group was great, and the lead singer was thoroughly entertaining and engaging.
The entertainment throughout the ship in the evenings, generally, was of a great standard. It was wonderful being able to sit in any of the bar areas in the evening, enjoying a drink and listening to the very talented guitarist, pianist, etc wherever we were.
The great quality of the entertainment on the ship really affected my holiday positively. It was nothing like the cheesy, naff entertainment on RCCL's Adventure of the Seas.
A bit by rote, none of the staff members on the ship went out of their way to be friendly but nor were they rude. Coming from London, I don't really mind this kind of service. I suppose if I were coming from America and therefore used to getting good service as standard, this would have bothered me.
This is one area where NCL didn't compare favourable to Royal Caribbean.
I ate in the main dining room once. It wasn't great. But it wasn't terrible either. The buffets were good in that you could always find something that appealed to your palate, although the quality of some things was a bit below average; the quality on other things was perfectly acceptable. I ate in the Churrascaria restaurant one night, and it was fab. I also ate at the sushi bar another night (as an American expat, I sometimes miss those epic American sushi rolls), and it was wonderful. I was a bit dubious about eating at a sushi bar at sea, but I shouldn't have been. The quality of the sashimi was excellent.
The quality of the food, overall, was ever so slightly worse than RCL's, but not by much. It's not fine dining, by any means, but is far above all-inclusive package holiday meals - and you can't argue with the convenience.
To address all the people who whinge about the quality of the food on this class of cruising, I have this to say: It's telling that a young woman from London who's into the foodie scene in her day-to-day life thinks the dining on this and other similar ships is good. No, it doesn't compare to the best restaurants in London. But if you're into gastronomic holiday-making, why are you on a mass-market cruise?
The cost of drinks was a bit less than I usually pay for drinks on land, so I wasn't too fussed. But I do live in central London, where drinks are notoriously expensive, so I can see why people get upset at cruise lines (all cruise lines, not just NCL) for charging so much for drinks. I do have to commend NCL for having such a variety of drinks on board. Because, why yes, I'd like to drink a Kirin Ichiban while I'm eating sushi - not a Bud Light. (Royal Caribbean said it had more niche beers on it menus, but when asked for at the bar they were never available.) Weirdly, the only Guinness available on board was export quality (usually drunk in the African market) - even at the Irish pub on board - which is 7.5% abv. WUT. Normal Guinness is 4.1% and therefore tastes much different. But, then again, the export-quality Guinness was as expensive as a Budweiser and got me much drunker much faster. Some might call that a result.
Marseille is typical of European port stops - that is to say, it's difficult to make your own way from the commercial port to the city centre, and the $20pp cost of the shuttle service offered by the cruise line itself seems prohibitive. Also, Marseille is a bit boring, let's be honest
Palma de Mallorca was a lovely port stop, however, The port itself was modern and well built for cruise tourism, and a bus stop inside the port itself had a bus line that went straight to the city centre for 1.50â‚¬. Palma was a nice, digestible port city to enjoy in a single day, with the cathedral being its highlight.