BACKGROUND: We are a British couple in our early 40's and have cruised several times mainly on Princess, as well as P&O, Celebrity and one fateful trip on Fred Olsen (never again). We had sailed on NCL 12 years ago, pre Freestyle dining and all the new NCL enhancements and were somewhat apprehensive about what to expect. How wrong could we have been!
PRE-CRUISE: We stayed 1 night at the JW Marriott Marquis which is in an excellent location, approx. 10 minute walk to Bayside for shops, bars and dining and within east reach of your staple shops in/around the hotel area. It is about a 10 minute cab ride (if that) to the Port and costs approx. $10. We couldn't have wished for a better pre-cruise stay.
CHECK-IN & BOARDING: Upon arrival at the port at approx. 11am the bags were given over immediately to the porters who relabeled all of our bags with "proper" bag tags opposed to leaving the "print your own" ones on - this gave us more comfort since the "print your own" ones seem a bit flimsy!
Since we were staying in an Aft Facing Haven Penthouse Suite we were taken to a separate small lounge area after security to complete the boarding formalities. This was great and within 10 mins we were all checked in and asked to take a seat in the lounge area, offered free tea, coffee, water, juice etc. as well as pastries and sandwiches and told to let them know when we were ready to board the ship. We stayed here for about 15 mins and at about 11.30/11.45 we asked to be escorted to the ship. We were taken up to just before the main gangway where we were met by a waiter who escorted us on the ship and to the Haven designated lift. The whole process couldn't have been easier and smoother, NCL really do have this perfected. Upon arrival at the Haven we were met by Ryan, the concierge who escorted a small group of us around the Haven and explained the facilities, locations of key things etc. This took about 10 mins and afterwards we were invited to have lunch in the Haven restaurant. This was our first taste of the food on-board and we were not disappointed.
CABIN: After lunch we made our way to our cabin, which unfortunately was at the other end of the ship (Haven is at the front) however it did give us the opportunity to see and explore some of the ship as we made our way to our aft-facing penthouse suite (10326). And boy were we impressed, the size of the room was great, perfectly laid out, yes it was tight for 2 people to pass by each other in some areas of the cabin but nothing to really worry about. The bathroom was excellent, although on some of the more choppier sea days the glass doors to the toilet and shower made some noise. We soon figured it out and worked out ways in which to "silence the doors". Talking to others on the ship we all had this problem and it became quite a talking point and joke (in a good way). There's plenty of storage in the cabin, in fact way too much, we can't see that it would all be used!? The balcony was large, and consisted of 2 loungers and 2 chairs and small occasional table. Our only criticism is that the table could and should be bigger so you can really enjoy breakfast etc. out there, space on the small table was tight.
FOOD: The food was to die for, we took advantage of the Ultimate Dining Package (UDP) and so glad we did. We ate in pretty much every specialty restaurant and sometimes ate in them twice over the course of the crossing. They all served excellent food and we didn't have one complaint. We always managed to get a table at the time we wanted and we don't think the restaurants were ever full. Of particular note are the French, Italian, Tepanyaki and Steakhouse restaurants; the food in these was particularly good and probably some of the best we have ever had at sea.
DRINK: We decided after much debate to take advantage of the Ultimate Beverage Package (UB) and glad that we did. It was so easy to get drinks and the choice was great, in that it wasn't limiting to the brand of spirit you wanted (most top shelf brands were available within the package), there was a great beer selection and we were very impressed with the wines available by the glass. Our only criticism was that it didn't include bottled water, and the price for bottled water was expensive.
ENTERTAINMENT: This was second to none and now think that we have been well and truly spoiled. Our favourite was Cirque Dreams, and this was out of this world. To have such a performance on a ship is outstanding, and the quality of the performers was excellent. Blue Man was great and definitely worth going to see. Legends in concert was good and again worth a watch.
SHIP: Having read some of the reviews before we sailed on the Epic we were somewhat apprehensive but how wrong were we. This ship is out of this world, it's an entertainment city on water, it really does have something for everyone. The layout of the ship takes some getting used to, but over time that came and it really did feel like home from home after a few days. Yes there are things that won't be to everyone's taste but we can really recommend the ship.
STAFF: They are probably the best thing about the Epic, they were absolutely superb. Nothing was ever too much trouble, everyone had a smile on their face and they all really made the trip memorable.
THE CROSSING: Having read a couple of reviews about the crossing already we have to disagree with some of the weather reports. In general the weather was great, the sun shone every day and we can't recall a day when it rained during daylight hours (yes it rained overnight but that didn't matter). Some of the days were cooler than others but if you find the right spot on the ship everything is fine i.e. it's sheltered. We sunbathed every day, and if we weren't sunbathing because a cloud was inconveniently blocking the sun then we still sat out, it was warm enough!
About 3 or 4 days in we had a couple of days when you could feel the movement of the ship more than we had done previously. And we seem to recall the Captain saying the waves were 3-5m in height and that it was the current that was causing the movement as it was quite strong. Overall the crossing was smooth and certainly nothing that caused us any concern.
MADEIRA: Our one port of call on day 9 and it is a stunning place to visit. We had booked a car for the day before leaving the UK and arranged what we wanted to see. The driver was there waiting for us as we disembarked the ship and we spent a good 5 hours with him driving around the island seeing what the island had to offer. We were so impressed with the place we have added it to our list of places we want to go back to.
DISEMBARKATION: Arrival in Barcelona was as smooth as the embarkation was in Miami. We were allowed off the ship at whatever time we wanted (since we were Haven guests) and we chose to disembark at around 8.30am. Again a lift had been designated for Haven Guests and we were escorted down to deck 4 in order to get off the ship. Whilst we had to wait in line there for 5-10 mins it really wasn't a problem and within about 20 mins we were off the ship, bags in hand and waiting for a cab to take us to our hotel in Barcelona.
OVERALL: Overall we can't speak highly enough of NCL, the ship and all the staff that made this holiday for us absolutely superb. It really does rank up there as one of the best and we would certainly recommend this ship to anyone who is thinking about traveling on her. Hopefully one day soon we too can return for another epic sailing on the Epic!