We've recently returned from a 7 day cruise in the Eastern Mediterranean aboard the Epic. I should state from the outset that our previous experience with Norwegian aboard the Star in the Baltic last year was quite awful, and we went to this cruise with some concern. This cruise was quite the opposite. There was little to fault and many aspects of our cruise experience were excellent.
We travelled to Barcelona a few days early and used the Hop On Hop Off service to see the city. This was an excellent choice as it gave us one day to appreciate the layout of the city and then one intensive day sightseeing. It proved to be very good value taking us to Sagrada Familia, Montjuic, Camp Nou and the central city sights around the Gothic Quarter, Las Ramblas and the Place Catalunya. We found the service very useful and would recommend to any cruisers who can spare the time to book a couple of days early. Our hotel at Medium City was very good and handy for the bus route at Estacio Saints.
As for the cruise itself, check in and embarkation worked well, although the check in desk staff would have benefitted from some happy pills! We had worried that with so many people embarking it could be rather crowded but this wasn't the case. It did take a little while for our cases to get to the cabin, but that wasn't a concern to us. The obligatory pre cruise safety chat was a bit of an eye opener with lots of people in the theatre. It did make us wonder how orderly an abandon ship might be!
The cabins on Epic come as a bit of a surprise with a distinct impression that their curved walls have drawn influence from Antonio Gaudi. The curved foot of the bed does make the access to the opposite cabin narrow, but then again we're all friends in a cabin and we soon adjusted. The shower strikes as small on first impression but I have to say I had no difficulty fitting my 1m 87 frame in! The touch phone and TV to arrange reservations for restaurants, shows and excursions was a novelty to us but it worked very efficiently and saved time in queues. The balcony was a generous size and was welcome on arrival and departure from the various ports. Our cabin steward, Roderick, was excellent, keeping on top of the cabin presentation and any personal requests. In addition he had a quite original line in the usual array of towel sculptures!
We had not enjoyed much of the food on the Star but on the Epic it was very good. We had little difficulty in securing a table for two immediately each night; a quite impressive feat given the number of passengers. We did have one server who seemed to "lose " us mid meal but otherwise service was a pleasure. In this respect we must mention Abigail in Manhattan, who we made a point of requesting for our last three evenings. She was the first time that we could ever say that our server made us feel special through her attention to our preferences. We only used one of the Speciality Restaurants, the Brazilian, and we enjoyed it, though I would recommend that you make sure you go hungry! We did avail ourselves of a wine package which proved a very good saving averaging $22 a bottle. The food at breakfast and lunch in the buffet was fine but, not surprisingly, this was the one of the few areas of ship which suffered from sheer weight of numbers. This was not helped by the significant number of parents who completely ducked their responsibility to control their youngsters. Thankfully they were more than balanced by the responsible parents and children aboard.
The entertainment was an interesting situation with Norwegian implementing a reservation for many shows and charging for some too. OK with the Cirque du Soleil dinner show, but not elsewhere. That said we enjoyed most of the shows we saw. Best on shop had to be Ancora, a marvellous vocal group, closely followed by the high energy performance of Soul Satisfaction. The Beatles tribute band were also good and surprised and pleased us by including a lot of album tracks in their two sets rather than relying on old favourites from the hit parade. We were less impressed with Legends of Rock. Prince... OK ... but Shaquira? Come on leg end maybe, but legend?
There's a great range of leisure activities about, even if there's not a lot of time to enjoy them. Nevertheless, there's no chance of a boring sea day. At most ports we were able to walk straight off onto the dockside, which made a pleasant change from the ludicrous practice we had experienced on our previous Norwegian cruise of allowing ship tours to disembark first. The only difference was at Cannes where tender arrangements were in place. This was done by booking a time to go ashore and worked very well.
We didn't book any tours through Norwegian, choosing instead to join other CC members on independent tour in Naples and Florence. These proved to be excellent. We visited the outstanding Amalfi coast and Pompeii in Naples and Pisa and Florence city on the other. Apart from its novelty, I'd never realised how beautiful the Leaning Tower is. These proved to be excellent. In each case we travelled as a group of 8 giving us the chance to get to know one another and establish friendships likely to sustain beyond the cruise. We followed an Old Town walk in Cannes which proved very interesting. As we'd visited Rome on an extended weekend recently, we chose not to go into the city and stayed around Civitevecchia instead. It's not the most impressive town and we might have done better staying on board. Similarly, Palma was extremely hot and crowded, but we are a little biased there.
This was an excellent cruise and completely the opposite of our previous Norwegian experience. as a result of which we are now looking forward to our trip to New England in September.