Here is the down and dirty about this cruise. ......
We went out of Rome for 7 days on September 18, 2013. Overall I would rate this cruise as very good. But there were a few things that needed improvement. I should start with the disclaimer that I am a loyal Norwegian client and will continue to sail with them because I like their overall cruising style.
We embarked in Rome after spending 2 nights in Rome, which we arranged ourselves. Rome is a beautiful city which is easy to get around either on foot or with the use of public transit. Transportation to the port is easy to do on your own. There is no need for expensive cruise arranged transport if you are able to manage your suitcases yourself. My advice to you is pack light and go it alone. The train from FCO Fiumcino airport to termini station is call the Leonardo express and you can take this train for €14.50. The train runs frequently and is easy to find from the baggage area of the airport. Alternatively, if there are 3 or more of you, you can book a private taxi to termini or central rome for €40 with jump limo (an excellent service for Rome transfers) At termini station there is a train to civitavecchia port. This train is €5 to €12 depending on the service provider. The ticketing machines are really easy to use and self explanatory. They operate in several languages. A word of caution if someone is offering to help you buy your ticket at the train station ignore them or tell them to go away. Best case scenario they will ask for money for helping you sort out your ticket. Worse case scenario they are trying to distract you to rob you or pickpocket you. You can manage the ticket process yourself. When you arrive in civitavecchia, the port is approximately 700 m, to the free shuttle that will take you to the Gangway of the ship. This walk is on level ground and easy to do with wheeled cases. The only challenge is you have to cross under the tracks so that means walking down the stairs and then up again with your cases. If this would be physically a struggle then maybe this mode of transport is not for you.
Embarking in Rome..... Quick and seamless. No lines. Room ready immediately (we got on board at about 12:30) and luggage was there in about 45 mins. This is an excellent time to explore the ship because the majority of cruisers embark in Barcelona meaning that they are all in port when you are embarking. Check out all the areas, figure out the lay of the land and book all your entertainment that day if you are planning on taking in the shows. More on that later.
I booked a studio cabin which was more that comfortable. They have made excellent use of space and storage. The separation of the toilet and the shower is great. The curved lines of the room make it feel larger than it is and lastly the lighting.... It's a cross between a spa and a bordello but some how it works! You can choose the shade you want from 4 options and it is a nice touch. The beds and pillows are comfortable and the linens are warm and cozy. The only negative is the night lights. They are located above the beds and glow blue which illuminate the room which would otherwise be pitch black. There is no way to dim or turn off these lights. If this will bother you, bring a mask :)!
Here is my first complaint with the cruise. The ports are often not close to anything and transportation out of the port is not simple. NCL arranges for shuttles but it costs $12 per person return to the train station. If you are planning a trip on your own, take a taxi from the gangway to the train station. This will ensure you get the first train to florence at 8:12. The cost will be €25 flat rate. If you are cost conscious try and hook up with others who plan to do the same through roll call lists on cruise critic. There is not much to see in livorno. You need to travel to florence or Pisa from here. This can easily be done on your own. Depending on what you want to see you do not have to take an excursion from the ship. Trains run frequently to florence (about 1h 20 mins away) express trains are fastest so choose an appropriate train. Again the ticket machines are easy to use. The ticket clerks are helpful. No need to book a return ticket now but you can if you want to. Tickets are open and not to assigned trains. You need to validate at the ticket validation machines on the platforms. Apparently there are random checks but I wasn't stopped once. Please note that if you are going to see the main sights in florence you want to get off the train at SANTA MARIA NOVELLA station not Firenze!
When in florence there are many things to see. If you want to see David he is housed in the academia gallery a 15 min walk from the train station. Pre ok your David time. You can make 10:30 if you make the 8:12 train. You can reserve tickets by calling the academia museum. You can reserve without payment and pay when you pick up your time. If you miss it or if you change your mind nothing lost. The cost is €15 per person. If you do not precook be prepared to wait in line for tickets. If you precook pick up your tickets across the main entrance of the museum which is a bookstore and enter the reserved line after picking up tickets. From there you can walk to duomo the cathedral. The line to get in is very long. You can climb 452 stairs to the top for a €10 fee. If this interests you pre book this as well. The line is long and moves only at the pace of those climbing it. I did not go in the duomo so I cannot comment on its worth. From the duomo you can walk to ponte vecchio. If you want silver this is where you will buy it. The bridge itself is quaint and crosses the river easily, but is very crowded. If you plan to do the uffizi gallery you will run out of time before seeing everything it is a huge collection. I didn't do this myself but others I met mentioned it was too much to see. There are also lots of Medici dynasty buildings you can visit. If you plan to see Pisa as well, you will not have time to do it all. On your way back to the train it is worth walking through the leather markets. There is beautiful workmanship. Also stop and see the Santa Maria novella church beside the train station if there is time. From florence, we went to Pisa. This was by train for €6.80 and there are express trains that get you to Pisa in 48 mins. You go to Pisa centrale station. From there you take the LAM rossa (red line not a red bus most of them are orange) on about a 10 min bus ride. You will know where to get off you will see the tower when you are approaching the stop. The tickets for LAM rossa you can purchase from the driver. You can climb the tower again precook a time or you will waitin long long lines. We did not climb the tower so I cannot comment on whether its worth it. Returning to the ship from Pisa is 15 min train ride followed by a shuttle ride or cab ride back to the port. Again if you are looking for a guided tour then by all means go with the ship but this can be done easily on your own.
Again you are required to take a taxi or shuttle out of the port. There are tons of construction projects going on in the port so this time it was worth it to use the shuttle as a taxi will likely be expensive while trying to navigate the traffic. Pre purchase the shuttle tickets the night before port to save some time. If you plan to go to the beach skip the shuttle and go directly to a taxi but note the beach is about a 20 km drive and is small. We did not go but it looked nice. Crowded and small but there are lots of cares/hotels in the area and the water looked glorious. We took the little train (aka fun train) from the port. It cost €8. Worth every cent. Winds it's way up in an open air train up to Norte dame de la guarde cathedral which is definitely something to see. Beautiful inside and beautiful views of the city from 162 metres above the sea. A word of caution the return train from the cathedral is poorly organized so you might have to get in a long line to return to the start of the route. Nevertheless, it's a great tour of Marseilles and it takes about 2 hours depending on how long you spend in the cathedral. On returning to the port there are several high end shops along st ferrol street of the Main Street la carbeniere. The shops are worth a look. There are many street side cafes, bakeries and bars to stop for a meal or light refreshments. On the way back to the shuttle there are little carts with soaps, spices, lavender and crafts available for sale. If wanting to visit Aix-en-Provence, my advice would be to take a guided tour.
If you want a beach this is the place for it! The beaches in Palma are beautiful and sandy. No pebbles here. In this port you can walk off the ship and hire a taxi to take you where you want to go. There is a steady stream if taxis available and they can quote you a price for where you want to go. If you want a tour of the town the ship will again get you to the city square for another $12 shuttle. There is a hop on hop off bus in Palma to show you the sights. We chose the beach and we were not disappointed. There are several in the area but we chose Palma Nova. It was €17 to €20 ride to the beach. €13.50 rented an umbrella and 2 beach loungers. There are public facilities for €0.50 per visit. The water is beautiful and clear with a sandy bottom. There are several little eateries and cafes along the waterfront and you can get take out food and beverages to consume on the beach. Alcohol is ok here as long as it is not in glass containers. There are souvenirs shops and people speak English well. This is a lovely, low key day on the beach, nice after a couple of busy days touring.
This is a very hectic port city! The traffic and the coming and going of people, taxi, buses, excursions can be overwhelming. With the Epic, you have to remember this is a city for embarking and disembarking. So there is a slew of activity and they start the disembarking notices at 6:30 am. For those who are staying on in this port, no sleeping in today. You can get off the ship at any time, but my advice would be to wait until around at least 9 am. There are crowds and lines (the epic will not be the only ship in port that day, there will be at least one and maybe 2 others that day since this is a popular port to start cruises) that need to clear a bit before you try to move out of the port and the traffic is prohibitive. When you are ready to get off, Barcelona is a good city to see on your own. It is easy to get about and move around using public transport but if you want a lay of the land, I would consider the HOHO (hop on hop off) bus. Getting out of the port requires transport to the main square. There is a port shuttle that is €3.50 per person and tickets are purchased from the driver. Taxis are also available to take you where you want to go right from inside the port. Again the demand for them is. High initially because of all the people going to the airport. NCL charges $30 a person for transport but a taxi to the airport is about €25 to €30 for up to 4 people with 4 bags. It is definitely more economical to take a taxi. If there is a particular sight you want to see in Barcelona, a taxi would be more efficient use of time. For example the sagrada famiglia will require a wait in very long lines to get in so if that is your "must see" on the trip go there first. You will certainly run out if time before seeing everything you want to see. The best way to see a bit of everything is the HOHO bus. There are 2 companies that provide this service and the price is the same with very similar routes. There are 2 lines the red and blue. Each takes about 2 hours and stops at the major sites to allow you off to explore. All the major Gaudi sites are visited and the exchange point is very near La Ramblas, so you can finish your day there. The down side of Barcelona is the fact that we are there on a Sunday so all of the markets and shops are closed. On your return to the ship, be certain to stroll down la Ramblas with its pedestrian boulevard and eateries. Grab a place to sit order some tapas and sangria. It really is delicious in Spain! Give your self a little extra time to get back on the ship. Remember there are those that are just embarking with all their luggage and the lines are a bit longer.
If you want to see the Amalfi Coast, Sorrent, Positano and Pompeii, remember you are only in Naples for 12 hours and to fit all of that in you will need to do a guided tour. Transport through that area is n narrow roads and little highways. This does not mean you have to take an excursion through the ship. I would suggest "can't be missed tours" they are a private tour company that takes groups of 8 or 12 people in a van to the sites you want to see. This is €65 per person as opposed to $179-$299 per person through the ship. I did not do this tour myself but I have heard excellent things about it. We chose to go to Capri. I would highly recommend this! It's beautiful there! And if you do go to Capri you must see the Blue Grotto. I would rate this as one of the highlights of the cruise. To get to Capri the hydrofoil can be caught right from the port. Depending on the boat/operator you choose it will take between 40 and 70 mins to get there. For the fast hydrofoil it was 40 mins and cost €20.50. The ride is stable, air conditioned and comfortable. No worry of sea sickness here. The hydrofoil is very stable. When you get to the dock in Capri, you can get a boat to take you to the blue grotto. They will tell you it takes an our but it is closer to 2 hours. If you are prone to sea sickness don't take this route. You can get a taxi from port to the blue grotto on land you must then descend steep stone steps to a dock area where a row boat will take you in. I don't know what this will cost as we opted for the water route. It was a beautiful sunny day so it was great to be out on the water. This shuttle costs €13.50. When you arrive at the blue grotto the shuttle ties off and you wait for the row boats to come get you from the shuttle. You must climb off the shuttle boat and into the row boat with the assistance if the rower. This is not difficult with their help but you must be able to do this, otherwise take the land route. Once you get in your row boat you must pay for admission to thè blue grotto..... The rower moves you over to a pink row boat where admission is collected €12.50 per person. You then get in line to get into the blue grotto. You must lay down in the rowboat to get in and once it it is the Most incredibly blue water I have ever seen! Definitely worth it! You are then returned to your shuttle boat after tipping your rower/tourguide we gave €5 for three of us. When everyone is back on the shuttle you get taken back to the main port. It is a bit of a wait to get into the grotto but you are sitting inthè sunshine on a boat off the isle of Capri how bad can that be right? When back to the port get a ticket for the funicular. This will pull you the side of the cliff through lemon groves and houses to the top for a beautiful island and ocean view. The views are spectacular and make sure to take lots of photos here. From the funicular station climb the stairs to the central square to check out the piaza, clock tower and church. Very pretty! The funicular takes about 10 mins and thogh the line is long, it moves quite quickly. The cost is €3.60 return and well worth the trip. Before heading back to the ship stop at one of the open air restaurants in the port and have a pizza (one of the best we had) and sangria..... They finish the meal with a complimentary shot of local limoncello which is a treat! The service, food and atmosphere is superb. There are lots of little souvenir stores to peruse as well. You don't have to buy your return ticket until you are leaving Capri and there are several departures returning to Naples but remember they all take different time to get back so select carefully. You can buy tickets from the port office. If you are looking for a beach there is a small one behind the port ticket office. There are more but you will need to get there by taxi.
The Epic has people coming and going all the time so the entertainment on the ship is done differently than I have ever experienced. With the exception if the circus show, all entertainment is free but you do have to book reservations. Plan your shows accordingly your first day on the ship and call the box office or book them yourself from your stateroom tv. The Beatles show.... Definitely very entertaining. Go for sure. Legends.... We had Tom Jones, Tina Turner, Adele..... Definitely entertaining and worth seeing, Adele was great! Blue Man Group...... I have to say I didn't get it but for their 90 mins show I was entertained. All of these are in the main epic Theater and there are no bad seats. There are shows held in Headliners comedy club. Door open 45 mins prior the show.... Go early because if you are going to be at the back you won't be able to see. There are tv screens but seems strange to watch a live show n a tv screen. In this venue are the Spanish ballet -flamenco dancing - quite good, Graffiti Classics - a strange comedic string quartet - odd but mildly entertaining, Los Locos Ole - Spanish guitar players interspersed with comedy- I found this silly and annoying so we left early. The most entertaining "shows" we're called Howling at the Moon- a trio of men who were basically duelling pianos. They take suggested songs from the audience written of little slips of paper and just begin to play..... They are funny, talented and very entertaining. We did not discover this until the latter part of the cruise but I would have gone to that every night if possible. Definitely check them out! There is always something to do but the 1030 to midnight entertainment is a bit limited. The ice bar at $20 was worth it and was a novelty.
As a note for sea day, get up,early and stake out a space! Remember, EVERYONE is on board and there are not enough deck chairs for everyone. So if you are looking for some sunshine get a chair early.
We ate every night in the Manhattan Room generally around 6:30 and had breakfast in the Garden Cafe. We did not try any of the specialty restaurants but heard good things about the Italian and le Bistro restaurant.
So pros and cons of cruising the Med on the Epic
Pros: food was excellent although service was sometime slow, embarkation and disembarkation was smooth, entertainment was good, staterooms were clean and well maintained, beds were comfortable, there is always somethñg to do.
Cons: if you are looking for fancy sail away parties and presentations for what to do, tour of the ships etc, board in Barcelona. The ship definitely caters to those that board there. There are no "quiet" areas on the ship like a games room or a library to be removed from the large crowds, there are no nightly drink specials or 2 for 1 night cap specials in the martini bar as I am used to on other ships-- all other ships I have been on have a lounge/bar above the bridge which is quiet and you can have a drink before dinner or bed, that doesn't exist on this ship. The Bliss lounge is nice but it is paired with a bowling alley and has a live DJ. I am thinking more like the windjammer lounge on other ships. There are constantly people coming and going in ports so I don't think the crew really builds an attachment or recognition of anyone, which is felt in the service they provide. It isn't nearly as personal as I have experienced on other ships. You feel a little like number. Not my usual experience on NCL cruises, I don't know if this is because it was European destinations as I usually do the Caribbean or the ship and crew itself.