My traveling party of 4 chose this ship based on its port intensive itinerary and we could not have been more happy. The weather for the week and ports of call were amazing. This was our first time cruising with NCL and had no complaints (though we rarely due...I mean you are on cruise with 4000 other people).
First about the Epic itself and then a little about the ports.
The Epic was a very large ship but rarely felt crowded. It was designed more like a floating hotel/resort than a nautical vessel. There were no soaring atrium's or 2 story theaters but the ship was very clean and easy to navigate. Food in main free dining rooms varied between average and at times exceptional. The Garden Buffet and outside pool grill was like any cruise ship. Entertainment was some of the best and most varied we have seen on a cruise and really enjoy Slap Allen in the Jazz and Blue club. Did not try any of the speciality restaurants (never see a need to pay extra with all the food available). One note is they serve both hard serve and soft serve ice cream almost all day which is far cry form RCCL.
Due the number of ports we visited and so much time spent in each port, this was probably the least amount of time we ever spent on a ship but it sure was nice coming back to a home away from home after the exhausting days of sightseeing in each port. My whole group agreed we would note hesitate to cruise on the Epic or with NCL in the future.
Now a bit about the ports which really made this trip so special (Note: Many of the private tours referenced below were found through Tripadvisor...worth every nickle if those 12 hours are the only 12 you ever spend it that area...at least that was our philosophy):
Arrived 2 days prior to departure. Stayed at the Hotel Jazz in the heart of town. Would recommend to anyone due to its great location, clean and contemporary styling and friendly services. Barcelona is friendly walking city with much to see and do in close proximity. Walked the La Ramblas, Biked along the waterfront, hiked the parks, was amazed by some of the architecture, and enjoyed the tapas and sangria at every turn. Items not to be missed include: Sagrada Familia, Guell Park, The Palua Music Theatre, biking the waterfront, sampling food in the La Boqueria Food Market off the La Ramblas.
Scheduled a one day private tour (Sorrento, Positano, Pompeii) through seeamalficoast.com. Unbelievable. From the charm of Sorrento to the beauty of driving the Amalfi Coast, to the breathtaking topography of Positano there could be not better way to spend a day in the port of Napoli...a true highlight for us.
Scheduled a see Rome in day private tour with romeinlimo.com. Considering how far the port is from the city the private tour allowed us to see more than we could have every imagined with a history lesson to go along with it. Rome history is amazing but the traffic is crazy, the city is dirty, and the throngs of people is at time suffocating. So glad we saw the amazing historical site plus the Vatican but Rome would not be a place we would rush back to visit again.
Scheduled a one day private tour with Tuscanycartours.com which took us to the leaning tower of Pisa, the charm and beauty of the streets of Florence, to an amazing lunch and wine tasting at a beautiful winery in the Tuscan countryside. To sample all of this various experiences in a single day considering how far the port in Livorno is from Florence was incredible. We all agree we would love to visit Florence again with more time to explore. The food, sights, history,cleanliness and oh so Europe atmosphere and architecture of Florence made it very special.
Did this day on on our own and trained from Cannes to Nice to Monaco. Trains were easy to use and very clean but language was a problem at the station in Cannes. We walked from each station to the city in each location with no problem.
Overall the French Riviera was a bit of a disappointment. Its a bit congested and its charm must have left with its increased popularity. Highlights were the old town in Nice, the flower/food market in Nice, the harbor and Casino area in Monaco. So glad to have visited but we agree the smaller towns we passed on the train (Villefranche, Eze, etc) held more of the charm we were looking for and would visit the smaller villages if we were to return to this region.
Schedule a one day tour with provencewinetours.com and it was one of the real surprises and highlights of the cruise. While the town of Marseille is a bit industrial the tour took us into the beautiful countryside of Provence. The scenery alone was worth the trip. After a trip to 2 intimate wineries for tasting we visited the seaside town and overlooking hills of Cassis which is what I believe the French Riviera must have been at its inception, all Europe n feel, charming, quaint, intimate, beautiful, fun, casual, etc all which left us with a burning desire to visit this wonderful seaside town again. Will long remember this day in the sun and vibrant colors of this special place.
Embarkation and Debarkation were some of the fastest we every experienced and this trip of a lifetime is for anyone seeking a renewed perspective and passion for other cultures, sights and histories.