NCL Epic is the ideal ship for people like myself who are travelling alone. There are Studio Cabins which do not incur the usual dreaded single supplements. I viewed one of these cabins and they are very compact but quite adequate for one person (no fridge though!). However, I opted for an inside midship cabin and paid a very small supplement. There is a designated lounge for solo passengers which is open 24/7 and this can be used by anyone travelling alone, irrespective of their cabin category - just need to have your cruise card swiped at reception to authorise access. The solo's co-ordinator, Gabby, worked so hard to ensure those travelling alone had an enjoyable time. We would meet up in the lounge each evening at 6.30 pm, Gabby would give us information as to what was happening on board that evening, provide us with information about the next day's port of call (more information available from her than the shore excursion desk!) and we would then go off in groups for dinner, the entertainment and shows. Meeting up with others in this way meant no-one need feel lonely.
My Cabin on Deck 9 was very comfortable with plenty of storage space. The toilet and shower with their frosted glass might be off-putting for people sharing a cabin and this has caused a lot of debate on the roll calls. My cabin steward was efficient, friendly and kept the cabin spotless throughout the cruise.
DINING: There were so many options. I tended to have a light breakfast in the Studio Lounge or a leisurely breakfast at Tastes. Evening meals were either in Tastes or the Manhattan Restaurant. I avoided the Garden Café after one visit there. I did not think much of the buffet, the food was not particularly hot or of a high standard. The place was so crowded all the time and it was not a relaxed atmosphere to enable you to enjoy your meal. O'Sheehans was satisfactory but not the best service with long waits between ordering and being served. I did visit the Cagneys speciality restaurant (supplement payable) and had the most delicious steak there - well worth the extra money. I also paid for Premium Seating at the Cirque Dreams & Dinner in the Spiegel Tent. This was a spell-binding show and the meal was excellent.
DRINKS: Knowing that every drink ordered would incur a 15% surcharge I decided to pre-order the Ultimate Drinks Package before I left home. By ordering this in advance as opposed to buying on board I avoided the 15% surcharge and this package was, for me, the right decision. Wine in this package can only be ordered by the glass - if you want a bottle of wine they will try to sell you a Wine Package, yet another way to get more money out of you!
ENTERTAINMENT: In general this was not as good as on other cruise ships. The Blue Man Group was mediocre and did not really appeal to me whereas some people raved about it. I have seen better tribute acts so Legends in Concert for me was only satisfactory. Enjoyed time spent in Headliners, Bliss and the Epic Lounge but most fun was had at Spice H2o an adults only venue which although crowded gave myself and my fellow solo travellers the best entertainment on several evenings. The Cruise Director and his Entertainment Team worked hard at all times and were very friendly and efficient.
DECK AREAS: Were kept clean and tidy at all times and there were plenty of sunbeds available. The two main pools and the Adults Only pool were all too small for such a large ship but were OK to cool off in after being in the lovely sunshine we had throughout the cruise. On the advice of someone on the roll call I managed to purchase the weekly pass for the Posh Club and at $59 this was money well spent. My card was swiped giving me access to this area on Deck 18 where there were the most comfortable sun beds, a bar for drinks and food and a most friendly, efficient waiter who looked after everyone so well. It was lovely to escape up there away from the crowds and it was easy enough to just pop down in the private elevator to Deck 15 to cool off in the pool. It would have been nice to have a pool on Deck 18 or even to have had the shower area and sprinkler system up there operational.
STAFF: On the whole they were polite and willing to help. Bar staff and waiters throughout the ship and in the dining rooms were efficient and friendly. With the free style dining concept you do not get to know any one particular waiter and this I do miss. Officers could be seen walking around the ship and would invariably acknowledge your presence and sometimes stop to ask if all was going OK - a pleasant surprise as on a lot of ships you never see the officers apart from Captain's Cocktail Party!
EXCURSIONS: The ship's own excursions (like most cruise lines) were very expensive and the thought of being herded onto a coach with 50+ others did not appeal at all. Fortunately some of the roll call members were kind enough to arrange private shore excursions and I enjoyed being part of small groups ashore.
Naples: Most on the roll call wanted to visit Pompeii/Sorrento/Amalfi Coast - places I had already visited. I wanted to return to Capri so organised my own excursion through Viator and I took the Capri Day Trip with Lunch From Naples. There were just four of us in the group - a couple spending time in the area and a young lady travelling around Italy on her own. We were met at the ferry terminal by the rep, took the ferry across to Capri where we were met by our charming guide. We travelled by mini-bus along the "Mamma Mia" (or the Oh My God!) Road with its very narrow streets and winding roads to Anacapri. We took the cable car (extra fee) to the top of Mount Solare from where the views were stunning. Our guide then arranged for the mini bus to take us to the far end of the island so that the others in the group could visit the Blue Grotto (I have already been there). By descending the steep steps the other three in the group were able to avoid the crowds and managed to get a boat into the grotto within ten minutes. All credit to the guide for arranging this even though we had to pay extra for the mini bus there. We then returned to the centre of Capri where we had a most enjoyable lunch (drinks were extra). After free time to wander around the tiny streets with their numerous little shops and purchase souvenirs we met our guide at the ferry terminal for our return ferry to Naples. A most enjoyable trip.
Rome: Six roll call members joined together for a fantastic day out with Stefano Rome Tours (firstname.lastname@example.org). We saw all the wonderful sights - Colosseum, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain (disappointed no water in fountain due to renovation work so could not toss in my coin!),Spanish Steps, Vatican City and the Sistine Chapel. We had all individually paid extra and booked advance tickets for the Colosseum and Vatican City and for an independent guide in the Vatican and were able to skip the long ticket queues at this places. This tour was excellent value, the guides were helpful,knowledgeable and we were not rushed. The car which took us around was most comfortable and the air conditioning was so welcome in the temperatures of 43C!
Livorno: Another excursion organised by a roll call member. Six of us travelled with RomeinLimo for a tour of Florence and San Gimignano with Wine Tasting Torciano and Lunch. We each purchased our tickets in advance for the 11 a.m. entry to the Accademia(Statue of David) and again skipped those long queues. Florence was a breath-taking city and after the tour there we travelled into the Tuscany countryside where we had a wine tasting lesson accompanied by the most delicious lunch, where the wine flowed. We were also tempted to make purchases of the balsamic vinegar, the pure olive oil and of course some of the wines - these are despatched direct to our home addresses. It was a wonderful day, the guide was superb and we all fell in love with Florence and the surrounding countryside.
Cannes: Yet another excursion organised by one of the roll call. This time our guide was Sylvie DiCristo, an independent tour guide. We had a very comfortable seven-seater car which Sylvie drove so expertly around the narrow streets of Cannes. We also visited Eze, a quaint little village with stunning views from the top of the hill, Nice, Monte Carlo, Monaco. Sylvie was a very professional guide, most knowledgeable and we were given lots of interesting information about all the places we visited. We had sufficient free time at each location and the whole day was most enjoyable.
Palma: I had intended to join a roll call excursion but my arthritic hip decided to give me a lot of pain so I knew I would be unable to do the walking involved and had to back out of the trip. The trip was arranged through Miguel Corral - Palma Highlights & Countryside Valldemossa. The lady who organised the tour told me it was a most enjoyable afternoon. As I did not want the rest of the group to have to pay extra because I was not joining them, I did pay the tour organiser my share of the cost (Euros35) and Miguel has e-mailed me offering me a free tour of Palma should I return there in the near future. How about that for customer relations?
None of the above mentioned tours asked for money up front. We all just paid our share of the cost to the guide along with any tips we felt appropriate at the end of the tours. In this way the person organising the excursion was not out of pocket in any way.
I must thank everyone on the roll call who so kindly organised such great excursions. You all did a great job - thank you so much.
Overall I did enjoy the cruise but this is down to the great people I met through the roll calls and in particular those from the Solo Travellers meetings. Had it not been for the solo gatherings I would have felt so alone on Epic and it is great that they cater for the solo travellers BUT the ship is too big - I am used to smaller ships of around 2,000 passengers at most. I still cannot get my head around having an art auction on board, the prices in the Spa were way too high compared to other cruise lines, so I avoided that. I am just not used to having to book so many things, like entertainment, in advance. A lift midship would be helpful as anyone with a midship cabin has a long way to walk for the aft or forward lifts. Not all of us are energetic enough to use the stairs all the time! Not many lifts went to the 5th deck and to me the escalator was a waste.
If the right deal and the right itinerary came along I might consider Epic again but until then I guess I will go with my preferred cruise lines and just accept I will be hit with those dreaded supplements. That's life I guess!