November 29th, 2013 our family (2 adults and a 2yr. 10 month old) sailed NCL EPIC cruise ship. We highly recommend to the let buyer beware. Before we get started a little about us. We have been cruising for the past 25 years and have sailed over 45+ cruises on lines ranging from Princess, Royal Caribbean, Carnival, NCL, and Rennasiance. Our cruises have ranged from 7 to 18 days in length with this last NCL cruise being 8 days 7 nights. We have sailed NCL ships 8 times in prior years and expected the service to be up to par as it has been in the past. Our recent cruise on the Norwegian EPIC was less than EPIC in terms of ship maintenance, child care facilities, and guest relations. Our review is as follows:
Prior to selecting NCL for our winter vacation we reviewed our cruise choices in late December 2012 and chose NCL for our 2013 winter vacation. In January 2013, NCL quietly change the child care policy to exclude any child under the age of 3 years. Our son is 2 years 10 months old and was excluded from the child care program and forced into a little 20 x 10 foot room with babies or spending the evening walking the deck with the parents. Basically, we spent the week and every evening on the cruise ship without any child care opportunities.
Our child who attends a learning center private school which stimulates his verbal, intellectual, social, and athletic skills spent the week playing in sub standard child amusement conditions provided by NCL. If you are traveling with a child who is under 3 years old DO NOT expect NCL to provide any child care services and minimal play facilities for your child. Their guppies program lumps 0 to under 3 year old children in a small confined space which is unsuitable for any real child stimulation. There are the occasional 45 minute play sessions your child can have on sea days provided one parent is present. This type of care we found actually is dangerous to the children due to almost 3 year olds running around crawling babies. In short, there are no child care services provided to parents who travel with infants or toddlers.
NCL did not communicate during our registration/payment of the cruise that the policy had been changed and therefore, we were unaware. We spent the week working with the child care staff who said the policy had been changed due to parents leaving their children unattended and not returning when paged for diaper changes. The staff also said that "parents drank too much and dumped their children in the center for most of the day. Due to this behavior the policy was changed”. We advised that we are responsible parents who usually travel with a nanny but chose not to do so this trip as we had anticipated using the services provided by the cruise line.
We asked if there was anything which could be done as we were willing to pay for additional child care services. We were told that the home office would be contacted to see if an exception could be made for our case. We inquired as to who in the home office would be contacted but were denied a name, a copy of the request, or a copy of the response. We reached out to the hotel director who was nice enough to contact the cruise director to work with us. After receiving a very nice voice mail from the hotel director indicating the cruise director would contact us we never heard from the cruise director. After reaching out to the hotel director once again the cruise director provide us a free dinner show admission but offered no solution for child care. As we spoke with other parents in our situation, we were told that future booking would take place on Disney cruise lines since NCL provide no care and minimal services for children under 3.
Again, this ship is not for families with young children but more suited for those who enjoy gambling as it has the one of the largest casinos we have ever seen at sea and all elevators to the main dining room leads you through the casino. The main dining room is small when compared to other cruise lines forcing patrons to pay restaurants which are many and large by comparison to other cruise line pay restaurants. In addition, there are 10 pay restaurants ranging from $15.00 to $30.00 per person and only 6 “complimentary” food offerings. We found service in the main dining room to be exceptionally slow and cumbersome while the food choices were merely adequate when compared to similar cruise lines.
The EPIC bills itself as an entertainment ship boasting Las Vegas style shows. The Blueman group show is excellent but that is where the quality ends. The Legends in Concerts show had only 3 performers, Elvis, Steven Tyler, and Katy Perry. Steven Tyler was excellent. Elvis and Katy Perry were so far below the quality you would find in the Las Vegas Legends in Concert show and was a waste of time. The Circ show was not in a circus tent but in a converted dining room. For the space available the show was good. But it too does not compare with what is billed or the Las Vegas counter part.
There are no formal nights on the ship so if you like to dress up this ship is not for you as you will be looked at strangely for being well dressed. The pay restaurants are all very casual and the fine dining pay restaurant doubles as the art auction gallery during the day! The pay restaurants were poorly decorated and did not appear to be worth the extra costs.
The ship appears to be understaffed and the employees under motivated to provide high quality service in the dining room, housekeeping, or bar area. And since there are no longer “tips/gratuties” which have been replaced with a mandatory daily service charge of $12.00 per day per person there is no real incentive for high quality service. In addition, there is no recourse a guest can take when service is substandard. You will be stuck with the service fee regardless of quality of service. Also, as we received our departure documentation, we were informed that the guppies child care staff does not participate in the service fees and we should tip accordingly. This is laughable as the cruise line is cutting back on services for parents with young children and we were advised by the staff that more cuts are coming in 2014.
In terms of maintenance there are signs of lack of maintenance (see photos) and one night we experienced the ship rolling from side to side as if it were going to roll over. Bar glasses fell off shelves, drawers opened wildly and theaters emptied. We were instructed to hang on to something as the boat rocked wildly side to side. So wildly that people could no longer walk down the corridors. Guest attempted to run from the show rooms in panic and fear thinking the boat was rolling over. NCL staff nor the captain made any announcements indicating that the issue was resolved or identifying the root cause of the almost rollover.
Our last night of the cruise my wife requested from the cruise director that a special song be played for our anniversary. The cruise director sent the message to the band but unfortunately anniversary congratulations and the song were not played due to the band getting the incorrect name information. We sat at the table in front of the band, as the lead singer walked out she was nice enough to ask if we were the mystery anniversary couple.
Also, if you have teens, in speaking with guest services it is common policy to leave the teen room key cards able to access the video arcade. He informed us that many parents suffer sticker shock when they realize their teens have run up $500.00 or more in video game usage while at the teen center! Buyer beware as this could cause a departure hardship for some families.
In closing, NCL is not recommended for families with young children or who are seeking quality child care, entertainment or dining options. We again for the 3rd time reached out to the hotel director prior to the night of our departure. He returned our call, sent us the customer service 800 number business card, and instructed us to contact customer service for further satisfaction.
Suffice to say, in all of our cruises we found this experience to be sub par and far below the NCL quality of service, guest relations, and quality we have come to expect of Norwegian. For future cruise, we highly doubt we will continue our cruising on NCL and will follow the other parents who will be moving to Disney.