We had never cruised with NCL before, but the Epic appealed to us and the great deal we got for the second week in May (Wet Med) was too good to miss. A little about us -- married couple, 45 and sailing without kids this time around.
We have been fortunate enough to have sailed RCI Oasis, Allure and Independence and loved those cruises; the larger ships hold a lot of appeal for us.
We flew BA from LHR to Barcelona and the flight and transfer to the ship was smooth; embarkation was easy. We found that the ship on this sailing was under capacity by 950 passengers.
As we boarded at 4:15pm, we were urged directly to our muster station for the mandatory drill. We had booked an inside cabin with the intention of changing if possible once on-board. We were able to easily re-book a Balcony on deck 13 and yes, we did pay for the upgrade; a rate that we felt was reasonable.
Our cabin looked aesthetically pleasing and much has been said, (griped) about with regards to the bathroom/toilet/sink combination. Whilst the layout appeared to be practical, it was not. Even after 20 years of marriage, it was daunting to nip behind the thin curtain draped across the end of the cabin, which afforded little privacy when using the shower or toilet behind the opaque sliding glass doors. I can tell you that curtain did nothing to obliterate any sound-effects. Hey, ho, this wasn't going to spoil the day though and we managed with these facilities as best we could. However, I wouldn't like to be sharing with someone who was not closely related or with whom you didn't want see doing their peep-show behind the revered curtain!
On the upside, there was plenty of space for clothes and lots of drawers; little cubbies and shelves. The safe was located inside a wall mounted curvy cupboard. However, the power sockets under the counter were badly situated and hard to get to. A coffee maker was provided.
Here's a tip -- all cabin lighting is operated using your key-card in a slot by the door. Once the card is removed, the lights will go out after 10 seconds or so. Take any card with you -- old hotel key-card, Supermarket loyalty; preferably something you don't mind leaving behind if you forget -- use this in the slot. We were mindful of removing this when we left the cabin as I hate lights left on unnecessarily. The person a few reviews down mentioned the bright lights by the bed (bendy lights) glowing all night. This didn't happen in our cabin; the third click turned them off permanently. Also, the telephone has a bright screen which can also be turned off -- touch the light bulb image top right and the display goes off.
After roaming the ship pre-dinner on our first evening, we found that the layout and access to the venues seemed to be easy to navigate. You can pick up a map from Guest Services and there are plenty of maps/navigator boards dotted around. The ship's decor was very nice, not gaudy or too ostentatious. Everywhere was very clean, except for the windows!
Dining: There are a vast number of eateries catering to every whim, we booked a few payable restaurants, (details below) but would have been quite happy eating in Manhattan or Taste; the standard and quality of meals was extremely good. I thought the Garden Cafe buffet offered excellent choices at all times; there was nothing I could complain about there, (easily pleased perhaps?) Loved the crepe station and the proper ice-cream.
Due to the under-occupancy there was never an issue getting a table, this may not be the case if the ship was full, so if you want to eat at a speciality restaurant or see a show, I would urge you to book online pre-cruise; which is simple and easy. You can change reservations on board (24hrs prior) as we did, with no fuss.
Teppanyaki - $25 per head. We thought this was well worth the upcharge. Food was cooked on the Teppan hot-plate in front of you, you can make choices of fish, meats etc. We liked this fun meal.
Moderna -- Churrascaria $20 per head. A meat fest and one of the most enjoyable meals we had whilst onboard. The buffet choice to accompany the meats, in fact as a starter if you wish, is outstanding. You will eat until you are wheeled back to your cabin on a gurney. There is a card system -- green for more; red to stop and they will keep bringing more meats for you to try until you plead for them not to!
Cirque Dreams -- dinner show - $25 for regular seats, $35 premier seating. A hit and miss for us, firstly the food was edible but not great, I felt that they could have done better. We opted for the 'cheap seats'. There is lower and upper level seating within the Spiegel Tent; which is in fact a small and intimate venue with the 'show ring' being central.
Our seats were on the lower level, in booths which lined the periphery. Whilst the view of the performers at ground level was ok, when the performers using ropes/swings etc came on, the view was obscured somewhat. In our opinion, it was worth the money, but perhaps we should have forked out the extra ten bucks!
O'Sheehans (complimentary) - We really liked this place, the food is typical 'Pub Grub' but was quick and tasty.
There are so many other eateries; you will overwhelmed by the choice.
Shows: again, do prepare and make your reservations in advance. The Headliners Comedy Club is a small venue so get there early for a good seat. We loved the Los Locos guitar/comedy show -- a must see. Legends in Concert we missed. The Beatles tribute band was great, the live music outside and within the bars was also very good.
We were disappointed by the Blue Man Group, which would appeal to certain tastes; unfortunately not ours. The show runs for 1.5 hours with no intermission. If you arrive early to bag a good seat, you won't be leaving for a fair while. However, we did see people leave during the performance -- so you could sneak out if you wanted to.
Ports of Call:
We boarded in Barcelona, but didn't pre-tour as we have visited before
Naples -- easy to walk off to transportation. We took the bus to Pompeii -- round trip for two adults approx. Euro10. If you search the boards here, there is an excellent post which gives directions and instructions on how to get to the bus. The walk to the SITA bus terminal from the ship was no more than 10 minutes. You can also get the train to Pompeii. Compared to the onboard excursion charges, this option was a fraction of the price. Pompeii is vast and well worth a visit. Take comfortable shoes as a lot of the ground is uneven.
Civitavettchia -- for Rome. I was shocked at the prices of the private tours and ship excursions. I found a great site called Civita Tours. An escorted bus tour, with brief stops to the main sites costs Euro26 pp or alternatively the 'do it yourself tour' a mere Euro18. If you plan to see the Colliseum, buy your tickets online, print and take. We walked straight through the crowds of hundreds, right up to the turnstiles and were in within 2 minutes! Well worth a visit.
Livorno -- for Pisa/Florence. Having been to both places, we skipped the tours and had a walk around the town. The bus costs Euro5 pp and takes you to the town drop-off point as the port area is not navigable on foot. After an uneventful 50 minutes, we were heading on back to the buffet!
Cannes -- pre-book your tender time to depart the ship. You can do this using the interactive tv. Upon arrival the heavens opened, (we had brought rain coats thank goodness). From the tender point to the town periphery is a 2 minute walk. We saw the little tourist train and hopped on the next one Euro20 pp. The tour is an hour, but our tour was longer due to the Film Festival traffic. I liked Cannes and the tour was a pleasant way to see the fabulous beach, shops and hotels.
Marseille -- we didn't get off in this port as we were quite exhausted and relished the lie-in. The ships stay was short and all aboard was 3:30pm
Around the ship -- we didn't get to see all of the shows as there was just so much to do. I love the Casino, which is a fave haunt. There are smoking and non-smoking areas. Lost everything, but it was fun.
The Atrium is a nice place to sit and relax in the daytime. The plush velvet seats were comfy and hard to leave. Grab a coffee and cake and relax whilst watching a demo or film.
The pools and water slides, looked really cool. The weather was lovely for most of the cruise and there were plenty of loungers to be had; perhaps this was due to the under-occupancy?
This is a great ship for families, with so much for the kids to do.
So overall, we were bowled over by the Epic and also I must add that the staff onboard were exceptional. Every one we encountered was professional, friendly and appeared to be really enjoying themselves in their jobs -- perhaps as I mentioned, it could have been the drop in passenger numbers, or the beginning of the season -- who knows.?
We liked NCL/Epic so much, we put a deposit down for a future cruise -- the incentive was $100 onboard spend. We both agreed that we would love to visit the Epic again, even doing the same itinerary.
After reading reviews here, we appreciate that everyone has their own opinion and the same cruise for us would be a terrible experience for some. Perhaps take the attitude of 'making the best of it' as we did.
So do we think the Epic is for everyone -- actually 'No'.
It might be too busy and hectic for some -- it is a lively ship. It is a large ship too -- which may not appeal to those seeking some solace, peace and tranquillity. There are no real views except for certain areas on the top deck, it is a floating resort.
I think the die-hard traditional cruisers may not like the 'Freestyle' concept. We loved it by the way -- We felt we owned this holiday and were not dictated to by schedules or timings....it did exactly as it said on the tin!