There are pros and cons to any cruise or vacation. The NCL Epic is no exception. By and large, the positives far outweigh the negative. Here's an overview of my take:
Embarkation/Dismebarkation: NCL had this down to a science. Easy and fast, both in Rome and in all the port cities. We stayed in Rome pre-cruise, and took a ride to Civitavecchia with Bob's Limos (they were excellent).
Cabin: A perfectly reasonable mini-suite with a nice balcony gave us what we needed. The storage was outstanding. We were able to hide all four of our suitcases, put away all our clothes, and although the bed was a bit short, it was still comfortable. Everybody talks about the bathroom/shower setup, and while it's unusual, I think you have to be pretty fussy to get all worked up about it. The only annoyance for us was that the shower didn't drain perfectly, and sometimes there'd be a little bit of cold water on the shower floor when you stepped in. Our cabin attendant did a nice job More
keeping it clean and figuring out our daily routines.
Food: Very pleasantly surprised - the overall food quality was quite decent. And at the specialty restaurants, it was very fine indeed. (We tried two - La Cucina was quite good, and Le Bistro was outstanding). Of the complimentary spots:the Garden Cafe buffet was absurdly crowded at times, but still half-decent. Taste was pretty good. And Manhattan was very strong. We felt a little nickle-and-dimed being asked to pay for a cappuccino after dinner, but c'est la vie. If you're willing to pay, Carlo's bakery cafe had lovely cupcakes and the best coffee on the ship. Didn't try room service or pizza delivery, so can't speak to those.
Entertainment: The Blue Man Group was fantastic. Howl at the Moon was very good. Legends was horrible (Having said that, "Prince" was very good, "Diana Ross" was okay, and "Shakira" was embarrassingly weak). There were other musical acts and movies, etc which were unmemorable but occasionally fun. We watched Deal or No Deal one night and it was more entertaining than I expected. The casino was good for a couple of outings - though, as many reviewers here have noted, it was sometimes hard to avoid the intense smell of cigarette smoke there. Yuk.
Kids programs: Our 10-year-old wasn't interested in participating, which was too bad - a lot of other kids seemed to love it. Our 15-year-old, though, participated fully in the Entourage for teens and had a great time with their activities and meeting kids from around the world. Job well done, NCL.
Excursions: We booked two through the ship: one was a Florence on your Own (which was very good) and then Pompei and the Amalfi Coast, which was fantastic - a great guide, a nice lunch, and worth the premium we paid for going through the cruise line. In other ports, we made our own arrangements, and what we did worked out just fine for us. The whole itinerary was phenomenal on this cruise in terms of destinations.
Pools/Fitness: The pool deck was frustrating - way too crowded, and not enough pool space. On the at-sea day, we didn't even bother going up to the pool because it simply wasn't that pleasant when everyone was on deck. Having said that, the waterslides were a blast. The line-up for the Epic Plunge was long (tip: go at 9 PM and enjoy short lines for the last hour before it closes). The lines for the other two slides were short enough that both adults and kids enjoyed thoroughly. The gym was excellent - we were very happy with it. We didn't pay the exorbitant prices for the spa. All in all, a mixed record - wish we could have enjoyed the Haven. For all that, it was still quite easy to have a good time.
Service: We found the staff, for the most part, friendly and welcoming. They worked their butts off and greeted us with a smile. The Guest Relations team was less than exemplary resolving a couple of problems that crept up along the way. That was probably the biggest disappointment of the cruise. We had one evening spoiled by a slow/non-reaction to a security problem in our cabin (the lock wouldn't work). A couple days after it happened, we were offered a free dinner at a specialty dining room, which was a nice way of apologizing. But we'd still have preferred that they treated us better when the problem first arose.
One thing about joining the ship in Rome: there's not the sense of excitement that people get when they board in Barcelona - Sundays are treated like a big deal there, whereas Wednesday departures from Rome are pretty much a non-event. Having said that, I liked the Rome schedule better. When you go from Barcelona, you end up with three days in a row of Naples, Rome and Florence which are all very intense port stops. Being in Rome you get to spread out those days a bit more, which in my view made the week more relaxing.
Put all of that together, and I would say our family had a great vacation. Yes, there were things that were frustrating. But we were well-fed, comfortable, amused, and indulged with beautiful locales, good facilities, and great weather. Beats going back to work! Less
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