We checked in just before noon, and were on the ship in no time. Our cabin was ready by 1:30 pm and we unpacked ASAP. Ginny and I were cruising with my Son Jack and his friends Jason, Nick and Joel. The Epic is a huge vessel housing 4200 or more passengers, but we understood that about 3800 were on board our cruise. Still, some cruises starting in Civitavecchia overlapped ours.
The Epic seemed to have the youngest age median of passengers that we had seen four ocean cruises and two river cruises. The entertainment is quite good and the casino is very large and seemed very busy most of the time. The ship has a lot of activities, from a rock climbing wall to huge water slide. There is an interesting pool area at the stern of the ship, deck 15 (Spice H20), where a small pool can be covered for dancing, just below a huge TV screen. Hot tubs are around the area as well, with bars. We enjoyed staying in Spice H20 instead of the main pool area, which always seemed to have music blaring away. The Epic is laid out very differently from the four other cruise ships on which we have cruised. When you first see the Epic is looks like someone took a cruise ship and stacked several more decks on top. The interior of the ship is attractive and looks new. There is a huge shopping area and gigantic chandler suspended over an interior atrium at decks 5 and 6. The fitness center is a bit hard to find and get to, but is adequate, even though it could have had more stationary bike machines.
Our cabin was a mini-suite on deck 11, which we acquired as an upgrade from a balcony. The suite was nice, with lots of storage space, but we did not care for the configuration of the toilet, shower and sink. The toilet and shower are enclosed in a translucent sliding glass door that makes it very uncomfortable for a person in either of those places when a visitor is in the cabin. Also, not having the sink in an enclosed area meant that if I awakened before my Wife, that I could not shave without turning on the light and waking her up.
There are several restaurants on board, two main dining rooms, six specialty restaurants, the buffet and other short order restaurants that don't charge a fee. The food on the Epic was the best we had found for NCL (we had been on the Gem and Jade). The Manhattan Room is the main dining room, which we had all our dinners except when we did Cirque du Soleil or three of the specialty restaurants. The food was almost as good as we found on Celebrity. However, the desserts were still not Celebrity level. The food at Cirque du Soleil was average. The specialty restaurants we visited were Le Bistro (French), Modern Churrascaria (Brazilian steak) and La Cucina (Italian). All were quite good and worth the extra. Note, at Churrascaria, don't load up on the beef, save some room for the chicken and sausage, which are the best.
We did take a six bottle wine package, as Jason did a seven bottle package and we all six shared with each other and split the costs. There is a saving on buying a wine package.
The Epic is known for its great entertainment. We did Cirque du Soleil, Legends and the Blue Man Group, as well as enjoy some of the bar singing. The Cirque show on Epic is the best show we have ever seen on a cruise ship. It was great. Legends was excellent as well, of course, I was the guy pulled out of the audience by the Madonna impersonator. If you go to that show, be prepared to become part of the show. The Blue Man Group was a disappointment. We did not care much for the show. It seemed to be designed for adolescent tastes. There were several parts of the show that involved spitting up. The group did show some talent, such as how to grab up to 20 gumballs out of the air and keep them in his mouth, later regurgitating it into a pile. The group actually took a camera and stuck it down a member of the audience's throat, which projected on the screen. We could almost see his stomach. At the finale of the show, the audience got rolled by toilet paper, like teens would do to someone's yard. Several people walked out of the show. We didn't but wish we had. Still, some people seemed to enjoy the show. The group of six usually met at Spice H20 for beer after our shore excursions. One day, we called it the Blue Moon Group, which was more fun than the Blue Man Group show.
The Epic has bowling and all six of us tried our hands. We did very poorly, our balls kept avoiding the pins for the left gutter. I think either the ship or lane was tilted to the left. Still, we had fun with bowling.
The cruise is very port intensive, so I only hit the fitness center on one day. The way I was eating, I knew that I would pay for it later. Upon returning home, I discovered that I gained two pounds in 18 days. It was fun all the eating and eating and eating.
Our first port on Tuesday was Naples. We did the NCL tour of the Amalfi Coast and Pompeii. I had been to Pompeii before, but not Amalfi. Ginny had not been to Pompeii or Amalfi before. NCL describes the tour:
Amalfi Coast & Pompeii
After a scenic drive, you'll arrive in Pompeii, where you'll visit the Roman resort buried by volcanic ash. Your tour will take you to the city's baths, villas and theaters. See the well-preserved frescoes and mosaic-inlaid floors. Plaster casts mark the positions of the fallen who were swiftly overcome by the ashes. After lunch, if time permits, you'll visit a cameo factory to see how the jewelry is made. Continue along the mountain road, which takes you to one of the picturesque villages of this famous area to explore its quaint streets. Continue along the coast, and take in stunning views at every turn of the winding road. When the Amalfi road closes to traffic (during Holidays), this part of the tour is done by motor boat. The views from the water are simply spectacular. In case of inclement weather and rough seas, the cruise to Amalfi will be substituted by a visit to Sorrento. Note: Tour is not available on the Norwegian Epic April 29th, 2012 sailing or on the Norwegian Spirit October 25th, 2012 sailing. During summer months expect extreme heat, crowded venues and long lines. We recommend that you dress in layers and bring bottled water.
My review of this tour
Great tour, but they should cut out the shopping
Luigi was a great tour guide. He spoke well and provided great background on both the Amalfi Coast and Pompeii. We first drove along the coast road of the Amalfi Coast, which was marvelous. The drive was a bit of a stressor, with the narrow and twisty roads. If you are prone to car sickness, you might not want to take this tour. Still, we loved the tour. We stopped for a washroom break and then at Amalfi. The coast is just amazing. After Amalfi, we proceeded on the autostrada to Pompeii and an included lunch, which was pretty good for a tour lunch. Our Pompeii tour was good, but could have been a bit longer. I had been to Pompeii once before and did the site on my own for three hours. We spent a bit more than one hour there, but still saw a lot. We could have seen more, except for the half hour wasted at the cameo shop. The cameos were very expensive and I don't think anyone in our group purchased any. Still, the tour was great in that we enjoyed both the coast and Pompeii.
The Amalfi coast is spectacular. The rocky shore against the sea, with villages and homes perched on those hills. Luigi, our tour guide told us that the local people there cannot afford to buy a home there, since the prices are so inflated with wealthy people wanting to live there or have vacation homes there. Amalfi city was smaller than I thought it would be, but still loaded with history. We didn't have time to visit the impressive cathedral.
Pompeii is interesting since you can seem to get a feel of how the Romans lived 2000 years ago. There are still portions of the city left to be excavated. Looking at the plaster casts made from the voids of people that died in the disaster, you can get a sense of the fear and desperation of those people. The streets still show the ruts worn by the wagons and carriages of those days.
Ginny and I decided to skip the marathon trip to Rome since we had been there before and take in something closer. Since we bike quite a bit at home, we took the Taraquinia Biking Adventure, to see that city that goes back to the Etruscans. NCL describes the tour:
Tarquinia Biking Adventure
Upon arrival at Tarquinia Porta Clementina, you'll collect your bicycles and meet the group leader. Then, proceed through the medieval historic center of Tarquinia passing by some of the most important monuments in this historic village. Visit the main palazzo and the National Etruscan Museum. Continue towards Santa Maria in Castello until you arrive at the typical farmhouse for a wine tasting session. From here, you'll return to your ship by coach. Note: Participants must be at least 10 years of age. The bike ride is approximately 3 miles, mainly downhill or level ground.
My review of the tour:
Tour good, Bikes not
My Wife and I are avid cyclists and had been to Rome before, so we signed up for this tour. The guide and tour were good, except we had little time to visit the museum. However, the mountain bikes that were provided were near junk. There were no bikes sized for taller persons and the bikes are typical of what you could buy at a yard sale for $25. They appeared to be quite old. I was able to change gears, even though I really didn't need to do so. There was only one modest hill that we had to climb. Also, we had one participant that probably should not have been on the ride. He had trouble keeping up with the very modest pace. Still, we enjoyed the sites of the quaint little city of Tarquinia.
The next day we arrived at Livorno. When I opened the curtains to the balcony and looked out at the dock area, I saw scores of MRAP military vehicles parked on the dock. I knew that Camp Darby, a US Army post was near, still I wondered why the vehicles were there. On departing the dock area in our tour bus, I could see some of the vehicles more closely. They appeared to be vehicles that had been in the desert.
Our tour from Livorno was Lucca and Pisa, and NCL described the excursion:
Combine two of the most famous Tuscan towns: Lucca, with a colorful history that stretches back to the days of the ancient Etruscans, and Pisa with its famous Field of Miracles with the cathedral, baptistery, and of course, the Leaning Tower. Arriving in Lucca, take a guided walk through the old town, which retains its Renaissance-vintage fortified walls. Stroll from piazza to piazza and learn the city's history through its architecture. The Duomo, Lucca's Romanesque cathedral dates from the 12th century and features a facade with elaborate relieves and columns. The Gothic interior features an image of Christ on the cross, supposedly carved by Nicodemus, a purported witness of the crucifixion. The Duomo also boasts Tintoretto's magnificent painting of the Last Supper. You'll have free time in Lucca to enjoy your activity of choice; explore, eat or shop! Once a powerful maritime republic and a rival to Genoa and Venice, Pisa offers Renaissance splendor of its own. A short guided walk leads to the Field of Miracles where you'll receive a brief orientation on Pisan history. The Piazza is the site of Pisa's Duomo, baptistery, Campo Santo, and of course, the campanile -- the famous Leaning Tower. Galileo is said to have used the 180-foot campanile during his experiments with gravity. Today, the tower leans 14-degrees from perpendicular. Recently reopened, admittance to the tower is limited and is not included in the excursion. Pisa's Duomo is a mixture of Tuscan and Romanesque styles and the black and white interior marble arches are thought to have been inspired by Islamic architecture.
My review of this tour
Two Gems in a crown
We had been to Florence recently and took this tour, primarily to see Lucca, which we had not visited. Lucca was great. Another walled Italian city with ancient roots and loaded with history. The city still has its walls, medieval churches and a Roman arena turned into homes. Our tour guide, Antonella (sp?) was excellent, informed and with a good sense of humor. After Lucca, we visited Field of Miracles at Pisa that included the leaning tower, Cathedral and Baptistery. We had been there before and only went through the Cathedral, which cost two euros each. The tower was 15 euros and we had not made reservations. This was a great tour and I strongly recommend it to others.
This tour was taken by all six of our group, and perhaps our favorite of all the excursions. Lucca is a city not to miss if you porting in Livorno. Tuscany has so many great cites. Florence and Siena get top billing, but don't forget to see Lucca. Pisa was the Field of Miracles with the leaning tower as the top item. Ginny and I had been there in 1990 and gone to the top of the tower. We didn't try to go up since there was a waiting list and it cost 15Euros per person. If you go to Pisa, I suggest making the reservation to go up in the leaning tower. One point of humor, Ginny collects small cups and saucers of places we visit. She scores of these cups and saucers. However, none of them lean like the one she purchased in Pisa. I discovered after I returned to the USA that an attractive coffee mug that I purchased in Lucca had a glued on design, not integrated into the mug. When I ran the mug through the dishwasher, half of the design came off, making the mug worthless. I should have examined the mug more closely.
The next day we arrived in Cannes, France and our first and only tender port. NCL handled the tendering process very well. We had no waiting for our tender boat. We had some time in Cannes prior to meeting for our excursion, so we walked to a small castle at the top of a hill in the old section of the city. It turned out to be a museum with a collection of artifacts from ancient Egypt, Greece, pre-Columbian South America, Polynesia, Indonesia and more. I climbed to the top of the tower and took photos. We moved down the hill and met our guide for the NCL excursion described as follows:
Grasse & St. Paul De Vence
Leaving Cannes, you turn inland to Grasse, birthplace of the French perfume industry. Here you'll visit a perfume factory for a tour and to learn how flowers are boiled and the essence is condensed in one of the world's oldest distillation processes. Your coach then crosses the Loup River canyon before entering Saint Paul de Vence, the meeting place of artists and stars. Your exploration of this 16th century walled village begins when you enter the village by the main gate. Discover that this village, typical of other fortified villages guarding the frontier, has retained much of its medieval appearance, its ramparts remaining remarkably intact to this day. Here you'll have an opportunity to stroll through the narrow, cobblestone lanes exploring the many wonderful boutiques and art galleries before returning to your ship. Note: Tour constitutes 1 Â½ miles of walking on cobblestone and uphill terrain in St. Paul. There is an approximate 500 meter walk from the bus park to the village.
We stopped at the perfume shop of Fragonard. It was not just a shop, as some work was being done there, but primarily to show tourist how perfume is made. The tour was instructive, but for most of the men it was too long. Ginny purchased some soap, but some women purchased several bottles of expensive perfume. The highlight of the tour was our visit to Saint Paul de Vence. It was another historical French walled city on the top of a hill. Again it was a mini Rothenberg on the Tauber. The village did not allow cars, since the streets were very narrow. There were many shops selling art and mini art museums. Apparently, many artists live there. Marc Chagall once made his home there.
Our final port was Marseilles, which does not offer much in the way of tourism. It is an ancient city founded by Greeks in the 6th Century BC and retained its Greek character during Roman times. Not much is left of that history. Our NCL took us inland to visit two cities and was described as follows:
Avignon & Aix en Provence
Drive to Avignon and fall in love with this fortified city, famous for its theater festival and remarkable for its history. Passing through any of the seven gates of the superbly preserved walls, one discovers the city of the Popes. You'll have plenty of free time to do whatever you want. Stroll through the enchanting pedestrian shopping area, enjoy lunch at one of its many great restaurants or perhaps visit the impressive Palace of the Popes, built in the 14th century. After time at leisure, drive to Aix en Provence. This was the capital of the Provence region and its attractions are many. First you'll embark on a walking tour of the Cours Mirabeau. This wide avenue is shaded by trees and was built in the 1600s on the site of the city's medieval ramparts. Its verdant tunnel of foliage protects pedestrians from the heat of the Provencal sun. Aristocratic facades of the old hotels line the Cours and their wrought iron balconies and finely carved doorways invite the visitor to explore. The drive back to Marseille lets you enjoy the scenery of Provence. Note: Tour involves walking for approximately 3 hours on uneven ground and cobblestone, with a few steps in Avignon. Not recommended for guests who are wheelchair confined. Public restrooms are available at both Avignon and Aix.
Good tour but limited
This tour hit two places that we wanted to see and that was good, but the guided portion of the tour was not extensive. This was not a huge surprise, since the tour description indicated as much. Still, the tour of Avignon didn't include the Papal Palace, which would have been nice. Some say that the inside of the palace is empty and not so impressive. I can see why free time was the order of the day.
Both cities are interesting and deserve a visit. Aix is a great place for ambiance, since it lacks many historical wow places.
Going back to Avignon was like connecting back to our river cruise, however, we had not gone into the city itself. Our tour took us to see the Papal Palace and a few other notable sites, but not inside the palace. My Son, Jack twisted his ankle coming down the stairs at McDonald's after at pit stop upstairs. Jason and I found a grocery store close by and acquired a bag of frozen French Fries (after all this was France) to assist him in reducing the swelling. Ginny found a pharmacy and a wrap for his ankle. Jack was able to walk after this and the injury was as bad as it could have been. Our tour then proceeded to Aix en Provence, which was the capital of Provence and a university town. While no major historical sites are in Aix, the city had an ambiance that was pleasant. We saw two markets in squares within 50 yards of each other that shut down about lunch time. We had lunch at a great Lebanese restaurant, Divan d' Antioche.
Returning to our ship, we headed back to Barcelona for our disembarkation and return home. Disembarkation went well and the flight was good. It is always easier flying across the pond from Europe to North America. Upon arrival at home our three cats just would not leave us alone. They are still following us everywhere. It is good to be home, but we really enjoyed our trip.