This was our 4th cruise, first transatlantic & first with NCL. The 3 previous cruises were with RCCL, so comparisons are inevitable throughout this review.
Pre cruise: We flew to Barcelona Friday night before Sunday embarkation. We stayed at Hotel Rialto on Carrer de Ferran, not far from the Jaume 1 metro stop. Great location - plenty of eating, shopping & travel options close by.
Embarkation: pretty easy overall. Cab to the port at about 11am, small wait for x ray, then we were directed through into an entirely empty check in hall that people were reluctant to go into for some reason? We walked straight through, onto the escalator & up to the ship. Easy peasy.
We dropped our carry ons in Headliners for storage until rooms were ready & explored the ship. Lunch was from the Spice H2O buffet, then at 1pm we collected our bags & went to find our cabin.
The cabin: 8207 - second to last cabin on deck 8 starboard side. Overall we liked it. The curvy, trendy styling, absolutely loads of storage & great to have a coffee machine. The separate shower/toilet thing was fine, probably meant a slightly bigger shower than RCCL which is good.
However, moving around the cabin was awkward, especially when getting dressed. On more than one occasion I found myself crawling across the bed as there was just no room to get past. On that score, the RCCL cabins win, they were just more roomy.
Room steward was probably the worst we've ever had; requests for simple things like pool towels, ice, room service breakfast order forms were a real chore & had to be repeated on more than one occasion. Some days the room was not serviced until late afternoon, or even not at all.
The ship: this is where the main RCCL comparison comes in. All 3 of the ships we have been on (Voyager, Freedom, Allure) were better. We really missed the promenade & the "separate-ness" of the bars & different areas on board. On the Epic it seems as if it all merges into one, and a couple of times we felt like we were sat in a corridor, not a bar.
Plus, from the outside, the Epic is one ugly ship! We loved the slides though ;)
Dining: this is a BIG area for us, and we were keen to try out the Freestyle dining concept. Previously we've done both traditional dining & my time dining; we preferred the flexibility of MTD.
Well it was a big FAIL from us. The two main dining rooms - Taste & Manhattan were just unable to cope with the number of people wanting to use them. If they can't accommodate you straight away you are given a voucher for 2 glasses of fizzy wine & a buzzer which "will go off in ten minutes max". That's fine, but half the time the buzzer didn't go off & people got wise to waiting. Several times we were told to wait whilst someone else just breezed straight in. Diabetes seemed to be a major excuse - strange that such a large population of diabetics should all be on the ship at one time? Having an electric scooter also meant you just rode over everyone else (sometimes quite literally) & were waved straight in.
Food in both restaurants was excellent, and we enjoyed it immensely. The service was great too, once you actually got in there.
Overall the buffet was superb - we ate breakfast & lunch there most days. Great Indian food, custom omelettes, freshly made pizza & a wide choice. Again, the "lingerers" playing cards & board games after their meal made it difficult to find a table at times.
O'Sheehans - we only ate here once after our stop in the Azores. Fish & chips were awful, don't bother!
Pay for Dining: we ate at several of the "for fee" restaurants. Generally I didn't feel they were of a much higher standard than the dining room food-wise. They were great to break up the monotony of the main dining rooms on a 13 night cruise, but if I were only doing a 7 nighter I'm not sure I'd bother.
Blue Man Group - 50:50 on this one, some bits were funny, other bits were downright weird.
Legends - we had Rod Stewart, Madonna & Elvis. Rod was quite good, but looked uncomfortable on stage, Madonna was awful & Elvis was pretty good but just far too young!
The Second City - a comedy improv group. We went to a couple of their shows & were impressed. Very funny but a lot of audience participation so I can imagine it depends on the interaction level.
Twice as nice - urgh. They were re-named 'Twice as bad' by us. Not my cup of tea at all.
Charlie Love & the Silky Smooth band - they played in Fat Cats most nights & were definitely the high point for us where the entertainment was concerned. There were some extremely talented passengers on board too, who Charlie welcomed to the stage. Absolutely brilliant, we could be found in Fat Cats most nights, mojito in hand, foot tapping along to the music.
According to the Freestyle Daily, the average age on the cruise was 57. Many people that we chatted to felt the entertainment was more aimed towards 27 than 57. They didn't seem to have made any concession to this at all.
Gym: we worked out most mornings. It was always very busy, but a good range of equipment. They could do with a couple more upright bikes, it was difficult to get one as there were only 4.
Azores: we booked a trip with fellow cruise critic members through Lisa Ringelberg. I wouldn't recommend her services - her lack of organisation meant that the trip left without us & had to come back, which as you can imagine made us extremely popular with the other couples on the mini bus!
But, it gave us a taste of the island & we had a fabulous lunch.
St Thomas: by the time we made it through immigration it was after 11, so we just got a cab to town to shop, have lunch & mooch around. The immigration organisation was dire - obviously the logistics of getting a ship full of people cleared is a mammoth task, but I don't think it was handled well at all. Plus, when I asked about the procedure at Guest Services a few days prior, they clearly made it up.
Bars, drinks & other stuff.
Didn't really like the Maltings bar, but they did have a 2 for 1 happy hour most days 4 til 6 which was popular.
The '6 for 5' beer bucket deal was available everyday, but only on the open decks.
Taking our own wine & paying $15 dollars corkage in the dining room was infinitely better than the prices of bottles on board, I would definitely do that again.
Drinks on deck were served in nasty disposable squishy plastic cups, which I'm not a fan of, meaning we didn't really have many, preferring to drink beers from the bucket deal instead.
Guest services dealt with a couple of issues we had with varying results.
We found the adults only sun deck all the way forward on deck 18 very nice - big comfy padded loungers & double day beds, but you had to be there early to get a spot. Opening time varied anywhere between 9 & 11.
Disembarkation: another easy peasy experience. We carried our bags off at about 8am after a quick breakfast, there were no queues & the car rental shuttle pulled up within 30 seconds.
Overall it was a great trip, excellent weather, smooth seas & we enjoyed the whole transatlantic experience. For many of the crew on board this was the last sailing of their current contract & it showed, they were disinterested & apathetic. Overall there were some good aspects that Norwegian did better than RCCL, but I think, given an equal price point, I would choose Royal Caribbean over Norwegian in future.