I did quite a bit of research before this cruise to find something that would suit my likes and budget. I'm 66, retired and travel on my own. Looking for reasonable comfort, quality food and sunshine. I quickly honed in on NCL and especially the Norwegian Epic. I really liked their concept of Freestyle Dining, large choice of restaurants and the Epic's studio cabins. They looked well designed and appointed. And the pricing worked out within my budget. I don't need an outside cabin. Couldn't find anyone else with this sort of offering.
In choosing late August I managed a balance between price and, I hoped, good weather. Whilst I'm not too bothered about the itinerary, it still offered some interesting ports should I decide to explore.
I stayed before the cruise with friends in the south of Spain and then got the hi-speed AVE direct from Malaga to Barcelona. Stayed overnight at the Barcelo Sants hotel directly above the station. Excellent value, recommended. That evening went out for some tapas just off Las Ramblas with some fellow cruisers I'd met on-line through a roll call on cruisecritic.com. (We then had a meeting with some of the officers on the first day at sea which gave us some contacts if we needed them. I was also able to meet and get to know quite a few people on the cruise. Recommend you join a roll call.)
A taxi down to the port had a surcharge on it (13 euros?) but it was easier for me than getting the metro and then finding the shuttle bus.
Arrived at 10:30, checked-in in 10 minutes and then had to wait around 45 minutes to board (I think they started boarding at 11:00). So very easy and hassle free.
Our cabins were ready an hour or so later and my luggage was in my cabin. I had a studio cabin in deck 12, forward and next to the private studio lounge. I was very impressed with the studio. Clean, modern design with a surprising amount of space. Separate toilet and shower, large double bed and excellent bedding and pillows - very comfortable. Not much space at the side of the bed was a minor drawback. I would definitely recommend this type of cabin for any single traveller. I should also add that the cabin steward was first class although I couldn't understand at first why he knocked on my door as I was getting ready for dinner. It took me 2 days to realise there was a circular 'do not disturb/ready for cleaning' disc on the door!
I wandered round the ship for a while and was generally impressed with its design, layout and the space of the public areas.
I had dinner that night in the Taste Contemporary restaurant. A bit surprised about how good the food was and the service was excellent. I had a very minor complaint and it was dealt with quickly and efficiently by the maitre d(spelling?). I had dinner there a couple of times more and breakfast every morning and was always satisfied - except, as usual, for the tea. I can never get waiters to follow the instructions on the tea bag and add boiling water to the tea bag - very British (well, I'm actually Scottish).
I purchased an internet wi-fi package for my iPad - just to download the Guardian each day as I'm a news addict. It worked well.
I also purchased a week long pass to the Posh sunbathing area - I think it was around $75. I do like my comforts when sunbathing and this turned out to be great for me. It is forward, up 3 decks by outside lift from the pool deck which it overlooks. With a bar, lots of very comfortable loungers and chairs, it was only half full on the sea day and almost empty most other days. Recommended if it appeals to you. There is also a similar area on the same deck at the bow (no bar or shade) but sometimes you couldn't access it and I never got a clear answer as to whether it was reserved for Haven guest or not.
During the cruise I didn't go on any excursions. I though the NCL excursions were very expensive. I was also worried about crowds/traffic in the heat when visiting the Amalfi Coast, Rome and Florence (I've been to all these places before even if it was many years ago - around 50 if you must ask). So I didn't join up with some of my fellow roll call members who had organised their own tours for much less than the NCL ones. It seems it is possible to find independent tours in most ports for a very reasonable price if you can find 5 or 6 others.
I only went ashore in Naples and Livorno. Naples was easy to explore as there were several open-top, jump on/off buses which left from outside the dock - less than a 5 minute walk from the Epic. I took one which took us up to a park high above the city. Great views.
In Livorno there was a shuttle into town which took a while to get out of the dock area - maybe 15 minutes in all. I think there was a small charge. The tourist people at the dock handed out a leaflet which detailed 4 walking tours (about an hour each, walking slowly, no hills, on your own) which I found great. I took one tour featuring markets and canals. Livorno is a pleasant town well worth wandering round.
I ate most nights in one or other of the speciality restaurants (extra charge $15 to $25). Food and service were generally very good. I particularly enjoyed Shanghai and the noodle bar. The meal I had in Le Bistro was not as good as the others.
I would particularly like to complement the range and quality of the food in the buffet. It was superior to any others I have had of this type. I never had a problem finding a table when I went right up to the seating in the bow.
After dinner each night I enjoyed strolling around and listening to the various music options. It was great to be listening to a pianist with a glass of wine one moment, sampling the 'duelling pianos' the next, and then having a beer in Fat Cats Jazz and Blues Club. Where else, other than on a cruise, would you have such easy access to such entertainment. And all the musicians seemed to be of a high standard.
Of the shows the only one I tried was the Blue Man Group. I just wandered in one evening without a reservation. There were plenty of seats. They were very funny and inventive so you should try them out if you are on the Epic. A trifle long for me ( an hour is enough) but it was easy to leave without disturbing anyone else.
Disembarkation back in Barcelona was easy and well run. The only minor problem was that I got to the airport far too early.
In summary, everything about the cruise met, or were greater than, my expectations. Both NCL and the Epic provide a first class and good value product to be highly recommended. Only if you enjoy something smaller or more intimate should you not consider cruising with them. And even then, the Haven suites might suit you.