I have sailed NCL twice before, and am a steadfast Holland America cruiser, mainly because HAL feels more calming to me. That said, I really, really enjoyed this cruise and the shore excursions. Because of a sudden death in the family I had to cancel and rebook for another date. I had purchased, as I always do, trip cancellation insurance. This was the first time I'd ever made a claim. I did find that trip delay does not cover if you have not started your trip, so having to change the dates, my rebooked date was more expensive, but I bit the bullet because it was the only free time I had left for the summer.
I booked a guaranteed balcony cabin, and several days prior to sailing I was advised my cabin, 9017, was an "enclosed balcony. I called NCL to find out what that meant and was told that balcony had a cover, which some cabins on this ship do not. It wasn’t until I arrived that I found out it meant the balcony was like a picture window on the balcony. I have posted about this under cabins, with a photo, so take a look if you're doing a guarantee, because this is a possibility the Epic. For the amount of time I spent out there, it was fine.
Barcelona is a wonderful embarkation city. I had been there before, and because of the last minute changes had to pay more for a hotel than I usually would, but it was worth it. Hotel 1898 is so well located on Las Ramblas, everything I wanted to see was within a 20 minute walk. I had booked a private transfer from the airport, and there was the driver right outside customs, a blessing after 18 hours of travel to get there. After everything I had read about how unsafe Barcelona is, pickpockets and petty crime, I did not feel threatened at all, although with the late sundown in early July, I was in my room by dark each night after lovely dining al fresco on Las Ramblas.
I took a cab to the port for embarkation, it should have been 15 euros, but because of a traffic delay it wa 20 euros. From the time I dropped my bags with porters to the time I was boarded it was less than 20 minutes. I had arrived at 12:30pm and was in my cabin by 1:00pm. Luggage arrived before I was back from lunch, it was a very organized boarding process, everyone spoke English and many other languages at the pier.
I opted for the Ultimate Dining Plan, since traveling as a single I find it nice to dine in specialty restaurants. On sailing night at Cirque Dreams you are upgraded to premium with UDP and I was seated with a lovely couple from England who had never seen a Cirque show before. It is amazing how they can pull that off on a moving ship! Although the stage is small, the quality of the talent rivals other shows I have seen around the U.S. I especially loved the twins, who surprised us at the end.
Day two was a leisurely morning, not rushing around to do any of the many things available on board. I think it was the combination of jet lag and too many choices, I was overwhelmed by the vastness of the ship. I opted instead for some quiet time at Spice H2O pool. There were lots of families with children back there, Nickelodean movies playing on the big screen almost all day. Perhaps a little too much time elapsed between arriving and putting on my sunscreen, as I ended the session with a slight sunburn around the edges. My afternoon plan was the spa for a Musclease wrap, but because of the burn, the therapist recommended a milk bath wrap instead. It was done on the float table, which cocoons you in water, leaving you calm and refreshed. That was followed with a shower, ensuite, and a full body massage I left the spa completely refreshed, and my sunburn was calmed.
That night I had dinner at Cagney’s Steakhouse. The wait staff was lovely, my filet wonderful and sides great, but theambiance was off. There was no music playing in the restaurant, which I though odd, and down below in the Manhattan Room a group of singers and dancers were performing, I could see, but not hear them. It would have been nice to hear that live music in the steak house, or at least ANY music along with dinner. I also had great dinners in Le Bistro (my favorite), Teppanyaki, the Chinese, and of course the prime rib & shrimp at LeCirque. Having been too tired on some nights, I don't feel I got the full value out of the UDP. I only ate in the Manhattan Room and Taste for lunch.
Each night after dinner, I walked the length of the ship on decks 6 & 7. In each lounge there was different entertainment, duos and solo singers, very talented, with audiences seemingly enjoying themselves. Blue Man Group is a MUST SEE. The reservation system showed every show I wanted to see as full, but I had no trouble standing by at the door 10 minutes before show time and getting in. Legends in Concert was entertaining, the woman singing Shakira was sensational, though maybe not for kids. Prince was very entertaining and had a way of getting the crowd involved. There were small clubs with a comedy show, Beatles impersonators who were terrific, Howl at the Moon, dueling pianos, started later than I could stay up, with my intensive itinerary of shore excursions.
Since I had rearranged my dates at the last minute, I wasn’t able to find private tours on the CC Forums, so booked NCL shore excursions in every port. Once I saw the enormity of the ship, I was afraid it was going to be a circus leaving the ship, or at least the bus area would be crowded. But no, they had it very well organized and it never felt rushed or crowded, except re-boarding in Cannes where we tendered in and out of port. Even that was only about a 30 minute wait. There were clean restrooms, cool drinks offered, and plenty of good people watching.
In Naples I took the walking tour including the underground tunnels. It was a great orientation to the city and it’s stunning architecture, and the history of the tunnels & cisterns was fascinating. We came out of the underground a block from the sea shore. After a photo opportunity at the seaside we headed to a pizza restaurant where everyone received their own fresh pizza, drink, and were offered coffee or tea. I walked back to the ship from there enjoying the beautiful seaside.
At Civitavecchia, most people headed off to Rome. I opted instead for the Hill Towns of Tuscania & Civita de Bagnareggio. There is nothing more beautiful than Italian countryside and it’s historic hill towns. It was a beautiful day and being a photography buff, there were gorgeous shots around every corner. In Bagnareggio we were given two hours to wander and eat lunch on our own. We found a lovely restaurant with Etruscan tombs in the basement, where you could eat, but it was a nice day so we dined alfresco. It was nice to be away from the crowds for a while.
The following port, Livorno, I took the Florence on your own & Wine Tasting shore excursion. It was VERY crowded in Florence and there was only about 2 hours to visit. There was not enough time to enter most of the major sites, as lines were very long. Luckily I had been to most of the sites so went into the Gucci Museum, which is fun if you enjoy fashion history. The second half of the tour took us to an interesting winery in Tuscany. After the tour of the winery we were seated in a large room with tables. We were introduced to the art of wine tasting, educated on Extra Virgin Olive oils, and pairing wines with Tuscan appetizers, followed by a Vin Santo and biscotti. An opportunity to purchase afterward was dashed because I forgot my VISA card, they don’t take American Express.
The next day was Cannes, where I opted for the Grasse & St.Paul de Vence tour. In Grasse we went to the Facconard perfume factory. It was interesting and we had the opportunity to buy French perfumes, soaps, aftershaves, etc. From there we went to St. Paul de Vence, a lovely hill town I would have loved to spend more time in, but we only had about 45 minutes after arrival. There are many art stores that needed more inspection and never did make it to the Cathedral, but again great photo opps around every corner.
Majorca is gorgeous! Having taken the Island Tour and Train from Soller shoe excursion, I felt we got a good tour of the island, seeing much of the coastline, Valdemossa, a beautiful village where we toured the castle and the odes to Chopin, who lived there for a short while during his life. Then we had barely enough time in Soller to make the train. The ride was interesting on the historic railroad back to the bus waiting area. I found out there were more than 300 people from the ship on the tour, and it was well timed that we never overlapped, with only about 50 of us together at anytime. There as a short tour of the historic parts of town on the way back to the ship. This is a place I would like to visit again for sure.
On the last day I took the ship’s transfer to the airport that included a tour to Montserrat. We left very early, and cleared customs, loaded our luggage on the bus. The trip up to the mountain was lovely, taking about an hour. The village and monastery is very remote. Since it was Sunday, we had to get in and out of the Cathedral before Mass began. There was about an hour to wander freely, have a coffee, take the funicular, but I opted against that after taking a look at it. I’m glad we left early, because when we got back to the bus parking lot it was jam packed with buses, and there were thousands of people parked all along the roadway. You could opt to be dropped back in town at Plaza Catalunya if you were staying in the city, or at the airport, where I would suggest Terminal 1 if you’re not flying and catching a shuttle to an airport hotel. I was staying at the Barcelona Airport Hotel, who came to pick me up for my overnight stay. This hotel is in an industrial park, but has a swimming pool, tapas bar, restaurant and shuttle service to & from the city, and (for a fee with advance notice) to and from ship piers.
The cruise meant different things to different people. I was surprised at how many people were still at the pool at 9:30pm at night. There was the partying set, mainly Europeans. There were those set on seeing the European highlights. Then there were people like me who just needed to get away from it all and visit some places I’d not seen in previous trips. There is something for everybody aboard the Epic