Disembarked from the NCL Epic on Saturday, January 18, 2014.
I cruised the Eastern Caribbean on the Epic with my BFF (her 2nd on NCL, my first with NCL). Came in with lower than average expectations due to all I read about the ship’s design in advance. I thought, “Ok, I’ll give her a shot.” I can report that overall, I’d give the ship and experience a solid B rating.
My issues are primarily with the food and food service (of course, this is probably the most subjective part of any vacation experience). My BFF described the Garden Cafe buffet as Hometown Buffet-esque. If one likes Mid-Western, hearty and heavy food then yippee, you will be in for a treat. My issue was that it seems that breakfast and lunch menus never varied – the same every day. Which is ok, if one likes the food. After Day 2 we ate breakfast in Taste each morning (which my BFF described as like eating at Coco’s – which is great if one is expecting to eat at Coco’s). At least the eggs in Taste seem to be real and not powdered like the eggs in the buffet.
Nights 2 and 3 we ate at the dining rooms Manhattan and Taste – once each. That was enough to tell us to skip them the rest of the trip. Full disclosure, I am the world’s most finiky eater – I’ll admit it but truly I have only one issue: NO onions – anywhere near/in my food. Usually simply accommodated or avoided.
We both ordered the NY steak in Manhattan. BFF’s turned out exactly as she ordered (hurray!) I ordered my steak very well done – butterflied if needed. It arrived cold and dripping blood and red inside. UGH. I sent it back and a few minutes later he brings me what can only be described as a slice of pork loin. I told the waiter (Vonn) that this #1 is not the steak I sent back and #2 it is not even steak! He took it back to the kitchen only to bring it back stating the chef said it was a “white steak” – whatever that is! I said, “Uh, no. This is not steak. I want a well done NY steak.” He took it back and brought back a well done NY steak – tepid temperature. I gave up/gave in and ate it.
The next night we tried Taste. Unfortunately, we had a bit of a language barrier issue with the waitress – she didn’t seem to understand my questions regarding the menu and it took her several trips back and forth to the kitchen and I never received a clear answer to my questions so I ordered the Kung Pao chicken (turns out it was a whole chicken breast w/some sweet/tangy sauce over white rice) with steamed broccoli. It looked nothing like the Kung Pao chick I’ve had before, but it tasted terrific – albeit a bit on the cold side AGAIN! And…who steams broccoli with onions!?!?!? Especially after I specifically (as I always do) specified NO ONIONS. Grrrrr. She was the type of waiter who nods, smiles and says, “Yes madam” without really understanding. Grrrr.
The next night we ate at one of the pay restaurants, Shanghai. LOVED it. I had the broccoli beef, BFF had the Kung Pao (traditionally prepared) chicken. Shared a pork egg roll appetizer. ALL of it was fabulous. Our server Retzchel (pronounced Rachel) did not have a language barrier issue, she was chatty and charming and friendly. This is what all dining experiences onboard a cruise ship should be like. Unfortunately, we had to pay $15 each for the best dining experience – not a lot, but that’s not the point.
BFF and I decided that the two restaurants Taste and Manhattan were woefully understaffed (giving them the benefit of the doubt) OR they were poorly mismanaged. We saw several ‘managers’ floating around each restaurant – doing the management by walking around thing – talking to passengers and such but NOT monitoring the service provided by their teams. Food service was slow, really slow and haphazard. We had to request the same things two and three times before we received them – simple things like water, Tabasco sauce, ketchup, a spoon!
My other primary issue was with our room steward, Ryan. I will assume this was his first or nearly his first cruise. He was so meek and mild. Unlike any other steward I’ve had on the 4 other cruises I’ve been on. I didn’t officially meet him until Day 2. It took until Day 3 to get the ice I requested on Day 1. He did a fine job cleaning our room. He was polite (the whole madam thing) and smiled a lot. I got to know the adjacent room steward much better – I spoke with him and he spoke to me every day.
We were on Deck 11 in room #11020 – a balcony room. It was a small room relative to the other balcony rooms I have had on Celebrity, Holland, Princess and Royal Caribbean. I suspect this is mostly due to the odd shape of the rooms – the ‘wave’ walls and all. The décor was pleasant, I loved the color scheme. Plenty of storage for our stuff that filled two larger suitcases and 1 roll-aboard sized suitcase and two tote bags. Our two large suitcases fit neatly under each bed. I am 5’7 and my friend is 5’5 and both of us found our feet hanging over the edge of our beds. (That was no big deal for me or her) The balcony was perfect size, enough room for two chairs and a small table. We spent a lot of time there, enjoying the views since this is not possible on most parts of the interior of the ship – see below.
The hubbub with the split bathroom was a non-issue for us. The toilet room door and the shower door were both frosted from top to bottom. We closed the curtain and all went well. However, the sink; ah, the sink!!! The placement was cumbersome. One could not be at the sink and still have room for someone (of any size) to pass behind. It meant one had to climb over the bed or the sink/mirror user had to move over completely to let the other person by. AND, the entire sink is about the size of an iPad – so tiny. Water spilled everywhere, it was unavoidable. And, oddly enough, the medicine cabinet door scrapped the light above the sink every time we opened or closed the door. It was just a millimeter or two too tall for the space. No biggie but odd nonetheless.
Our favorite spot on the ship was H2O Spice. It is the adults only until 6pm quiet area, aft. The large screen is there and in the evening we were able to watch NFL play-off football, movies and concerts on the big screen. By the end of Day 1 our waiter, Jeric (The Awesome) knew us by name, knew our drinks and took superb care of us all week! If you cruise the Epic and have a chance to cross paths with him you will be well taken care of and be sure to go to the Epic International Crew Talent Show. He and his colleagues put on a nice performance – I won’t tell you what they do, just go see it!
The onboard entertainment that we saw was great: New Orleans music in the Atrium lounge, the music of Gershwin in Fat Cats, Legends in the Epic Theater, Howl at the Moon (dueling pianos) in Headliners and What’s My Line in Headliners and as mentioned before, the Epic Crew Talent Show. I heard good things about their Cirque show and the Blue Man Group show from others who saw those shows.
Now, about the ship herself. As I am sure you have heard, there is some dissent regarding the design of the Epic. She is unique. I’ll give her that. She is not a pretty ship. She is bulky and oddly shaped. Her décor is subdued and understated – no glitz to be found here. Pretty much everything is done in neutral colors. From the state rooms to the Atrium area, to the casino, to the dining rooms (Taste and Manhattan) to the underwhelming Garden Café buffet. No pizzazz as one might find on a Princess ship. No traditionally nautical theme as one might find on a Holland or Celebrity ship. No nooks and cozy seating areas to sit and watch the sea. In fact, the only ocean views we could find were in the Garden Café buffet on 15. This was hard to get used to. Thankfully the weather was fabulous while at sea so there was no problem hanging out in Spice every day.
Regarding the casino, it was the largest I’ve seen at sea. In square footage and in number of slot machines. Nice. The layout was odd. Hard to explain here, but I’ll try. It was a long corridor on 6 (mid-ship) with non-smoking banks of slot machines at both ends. In the middle it “expanded beyond the interior corridor to the edges of the ship. Sort of a cross shape.
A great deal of the middle corridor is open to the floor above (and below where Taste is located) so cigarette smoke can waft to those non-smoking areas but there were many air filters all over the non-smoking area making it not so bad. The areas in the middle, off to the sides allowed smoking and were so crowded that the smoke was oppressive. It was pretty warm, though. And because of the corridor design, non-casino folks had to make their way through the casino on their way forward or aft causing a bit of a bottleneck at times.
I was never concerned about traveling with 4000 of my closest friends, never worried about lines, or waits. And I was right. There are so many choices that at the most we had to wait 5 minutes to be seated at Taste or Manhattan, not at all at Shanghai. No waits at the buffet either. The pools rarely had people in them and I was told by those who went on the waterslides that wait times were non-existent. We were told at the Q&A with the officers that there were only 300 kids on board. I think that helped keep waits down for the outdoor amenities.
We were treated to a day at POSH (by some new friends we made on the ship) it is the private (for a fee) outdoor lounge/bar area on 17 or 18. Totally awesome experience, but I wouldn’t pay extra for it; if they had their own pool – maybe. BTW: the POSH bartender Gede was awesome!
Overall, our experience was pleasant, like I said at the beginning, a solid B rating from me.