So, let's start by saying this single cruise was...different.
NCL has loyal customers, they like the freedom NCL offers to let them to eat when they want, go to shows when they want, drink and play when they want. We like lots of options, and the Epic has lots of them! This was our first time on the Epic and we chose this transatlantic cruise so we could take the time to focus on the ship itself and explore it at our leisure.
Most of us know a transatlantic repositioning cruise is usually half full and that the crew usually has time to let down their hair and relax along with the passengers. Those long sea days are what we crave, quiet times to stare out at the ocean as it lolls by. Well, not this time.
NCL set up some incredible packages and marketed them hard. Flights to Barcelona, transport to hotels, two nights in Barcelona, bus to the ship and then air transport home when we arrived in Miami plus two dinners in Le Bistro and Cagneys AND a bottle of wine AAAAAND a cocktail party. That was our package. Other passengers got even better deals. As I said, incredible packages.
There was just one problem, the Epic was completely sold out.
Normally that's okay. As I said, there are lots of options on Epic. When it stops at ports on a daily basis, those passengers who choose to stay on board can find plenty to do, those who go ashore will find 21 galleys waiting with food for them when they return. There's an ebb and flow and the energy evens out around the ship. Not this trip.
The marketing went mostly to experienced travelers. The average age was 59, a plurality of Americans followed by British, then Germans and Swedes. Why were the announcements in Spanish? I would offer because we started in Spain though I know better. So, what do experienced travelers do?
First, they tend to eat around the same time. Remember that flexibility I mentioned in the beginning? The Epic has a scheduling system for its shows. That means you make reservations... for the shows. Well, if you have to be at a show at 7PM you are going to eat at either 5:30 or 8:15. And that's what happened every night. Crowds of people descended on the MDRs at exactly those times. It became a running gag that you showed up and got a beeper and a slip of paper good for two glasses of champagne while you waited. By the tenth night they starting running out of plastic champagne glasses.
Second, no one is in a rush on a Transatlantic cruise so they want to sit down and have a leisurely meal SERVED to them. The buffet was absolutely delicious at lunch and dinner (roast suckling pig at lunch, for heaven's sake!) but very few people tended to be there; they crowded into the MDRs.
Third, they're mostly old-timers and they probably got a deal so why would they spend extra money in the specialty restaurants? Again, march down to the MDRs.
So, the poor staff in the MDRs were faced with even more work during thirteen days at sea, instead of half the work as usually happens in a less filled ship. It was much worse than their usual week, when passengers mostly go off ship during lunch when they're in port and the staff can catch up. This trip, every single meal was served to every single passenger for thirteen solid days. 4000 passengers. You do the math.
So, were the bars overflowing with customers?
Not at those prices. NCL has to realize it can sell more if it stops insulting its customers with blatant price gouging on the drinks.Their new unlimited beverage package costs about $50 a day. If you're not an alcoholic you normally do not spend $50 a day on drinks thirteen days in a row. The only reason the package makes sense is because the drinks are so expensive. One of the fun things about a cruise is you can binge a couple of times and safely crash in your bunk, but if the cost can explode so easily you may just plain naturally turn off from alcohol altogether. And that what lots of people did.
There will be other reviews but I thought this analysis could help explain some of the grumbling you're reading. Epic is a floating hotel that is designed to provide fun stuff to do when you come back from your shore excursions. You're expected to come back on board several times and discover something new each time. It was NOT designed to handle a full ship of seasoned travelers transatlantic.