I live in the Middle East, and my family lives in South Florida. About a year ago (April 2011), I remembered how much I enjoy cruises, and I decided to combine a family visit with an eastbound transatlantic cruise, thus alleviating jet lag on the return. I originally booked on Royal Caribbean's Liberty of the Seas, based on sailing date, ship features, and price. However, when my father decided to join me, I saw that the prices for the Liberty had jumped significantly. A little bit of searching turned up the Norwegian Epic at better rates, albeit giving up a few days of cruising and a few ports of call.
I enjoy sitting and watching -- the sea, the sun, the sky, people passing by -- for hours, even days, at a time, so it was perfectly OK for me to have 10 days at sea and only one port of call.
The Epic is currently the world's third-largest cruise ship, narrowly beating out the Liberty of the Seas and her classmates (according to Wikipedia). At double occupancy, the ship's passenger capacity is about 4,1000. For this particular cruise, there were about 2,300 passengers aboard. I was told (confidentially) by someone on the entertainment staff that a large group had cancelled close to sailing date. It was amazing not to have to stand in line or wait for anything, although this could be an extremely rare situation.
The Epic has 128 Studio cabins designed and priced for solo occupancy, but for this, and likely other, transatlantic sailings, full-size inside cabins are priced about the same, maybe even cheaper, so unless you particularly like the design or location... All outside cabins have balconies, and that can mean that a balcony on Epic costs about the same as an oceanview would on another ship for a similar sailing.
We had somewhat rough seas for about 24 hours, but the ship's size, in my opinion, significantly reduced the amount of movement we felt. I don't think it would affect me too much anyway, but I am likely to choose a larger ship for a transatlantic cruise.
Travel To Port of Embarkation
My family lives in South Florida, so we just drove to the port.
There were so many activities to choose from, I only participated in a small percentage of them. I joined a Progressive Trivia team, so on most days I had to be at a certain place at a certain time, thus precluding me from participating in certain activities.
Nonetheless, I enjoyed every activity in which I participated: numerous trivia contests, watching the sun set most evenings with accompanying classical musical pieces, a golf putting contest (which I thought would be more like a lesson, actually), a movie, and so on.
Minor complaint: At the two video-related activities I watched, there were technical difficulties. They never did figure out how to get a properly-calibrated picture of Moneyball on the widescreen at Headliners; and the U2 concert video at Spice H20 did not start on time, and when it finally did, the sound was not properly set up.
The cruise staff was extremely friendly and helpful, so much so that I would even describe it as luxury-level.
Port & Shore Excursions
We decided to rent a car instead of joining an organized excursion, and I highly recommend it for those comfortable with the idea. What fun it was to drive around the breathtaking Azores island of San Miguel, and visit Sete Cidades and Mosteiros. It only cost us about 65 euros, including gas (aka petrol), so split between two, was quite reasonable.
My spacious (for one) balcony was so pleasant that I thoroughly enjoyed spending all of Days 9 and 10 in it due to a cold. I chose a stateroom with the bed closer to the balcony door. The ship has incorporated a pioneering method to maximize the overall use of space: mirrored room designs with curved walls, so that half of all balcony cabins have the bed close to the balcony door. The bed is closer to the sink, bathroom, and shower in the other half. Even if I had a room with the bed closer to the sink, I don't think it would have made much difference, as I had no issue with water splashing or spilling. Nonetheless, it was nice to sleep right next to the balcony doors, which happens to be quite similar to my home situation.
There was plenty of storage, again for one, even on an 11-night cruise, and lighting and other furnishings were well laid-out. Hint: You can turn off the display on the phone, which otherwise serves as a sort of night light.
The shower was more than roomy enough for one. The bathroom was fine for me (5' 8", 200 lbs), but larger persons could find it tight.
All of the materials in the room appeared to be of high quality and durable.
The Epic has about 20 dining options, although I did not try any of the for-fee choices. I really felt it unnecessary, as I was - again - extremely pleased with the selection and the quality of the food at the no-added-cost options.
A selling point for Epic, the entertainment selection and quality exceeded my expectations. And, I even missed two of the most prominent entertainment options: Blue Man Group and Second City. Blue Man Group only performed three times, including two performances on one night, which I did not realize until the day after the final performance. My own fault, though: I did not see, nor seek, a day-by-day entertainment schedule, even though one apparently had been placed in my room before I got on board... As for Second City, a lot their performances coincided with the sunset, which I watched most evenings. And then, after I did finally make reservations for a couple of shows, I got a cold and decided not to go.
So, here's a tip: If seeing particular shows is important to you, check the entire cruise schedule at some point on the first day (or before). As far as I could tell, though, the NCL website did not present all planned shows for a particular performer/group in one list. On the other hand, if I remember correctly, the interactive in-room TV screen did provide this information in this way.
I saw Legends in Concert (Steven Tyler, Madonna, and Elvis impersonators); went to the Fat Cats Blues and Jazz Club, where Slam Allen and his band played; listened to guitarist-singer Carrie Stone; went to see the Howl at the Moon dueling piano show a couple of nights; and saw one of magician-comedian Jeff Hobson's performances. All top-notch, especially Carrie.
On the other hand, I did not care for Twice as Nice, the pianist in Martinis, nor the Latin covers duo. I had seen a Cirque Du Soleil show before, and had no desire to see another Cirque-type performance, especially not one I would have had to pay extra for.
Smooth and quick, as I walked off with my bag, and then hopped into a taxi.
I stayed at the FrontAir Congress Hotel in Barcelona for three nights after the cruise. Possibly convenient for a one-night, port-to-airport transit stay, but with only one bus line and no rail station nearby, I wouldn't necessarily recommend it for a lengthier stay. Tip: For a multiple-day stay in Barcelona, buy a multi-trip transit pass for bus and subway travel; cuts per-trip prices in about half.
One distinct feature of this hotel: It is located in a commercial center anchored by the largest supermarket I've ever seen. There's also a huge Home Depot-like store, a very large sporting goods store, and a large electronics store. You could, in theory, spend an entire day walking and shopping through them, although I'm not sure why anyone would choose this over seeing the historical and cultural treasures in Barcelona.
"Best decision I've ever made."
I'm fairly confident that it will be incredibly difficult to find a cruise more enjoyable - for me - than this one. But I'm not going to give up trying!