Overnight, Rotterdam to Southampton There's no doubt about it: Norwegian Epic is a beautiful ship. The crew are wonderful, the food is excellent and the entertainment is probably the best you'll ever see at sea. The bad news is the embarkation at Rotterdam took almost four hours and was the most chaotic we've ever encountered in all the years we've been cruising and the disembarkation at Southampton wasn't much better. And the much-vaunted "wave" cabins leave quite a lot to be desired. It has to be said, though, that the positives far outweigh the negatives and even though it was just one epic night on the Epic, my wife and I had a fantastic time (when we finally did get aboard).
So let's get the negatives out of the way first. To be fair to NCL, there was a technical problem with a propeller shaft on the ship, so part of the delay in checking us in may have been down to them deciding what was going to be done. The fault meant that our voyage took about five hours longer than scheduled (though for us that was a bonus as it meant we got to sample even more of the ship!). But we had to queue in a long line for almost two hours outside the terminal to have our documents checked and be given a coloured card before we were allowed in to the building and up the escalators to actually check in. We then queued in another long line for another hour, listening to announcements calling for passengers with different colour cards to begin embarkation, before we were finally all told that it was actually the check in that was by the colour of our card and we should all sit down till it was called. As we did, more and more people came up the escalators and joined the long line we had just left! Total chaos with a complete lack of any organisation.
Getting off at Southampton was nearly as bad - just one gangway was open to get everyone off, and because everyone's key card had to be scanned a huge queue soon built up. Fortunately someone had the good sense to open another gangway further down the ship but it still took almost 45 minutes to disembark. All this is (hopefully) a one-off with a port NCL don't use very often (Rotterdam) and a new ship.
But a much bigger negative is the "wave" cabin. They have curvy walls and where the wall curves out, the wall in the adjacent cabin curves in, and vice versa. The theory is that by putting the bed in the space where the wall curves out, the cabin can be narrower and deeper than standard cabins but appear to be as spacious. The reality, though, is that it doesn't. Both my wife and I had the same thought when we first stepped through the door: "It's a bit narrow, isn't it!" Even worse, there's a "no passing zone" bottleneck at the foot of the bed, which means that even with just two people in the cabin, you're forever getting in each other's way. I don't know how a family with children would manage - or even if I could for more than a week.
Another big problem is the lack of a proper bathroom. The tiny washbasin is situated in the main part of the room, not far from the "no passing zone" at the foot of the bed, while the shower and toilet are opposite each other just inside the room's doorway (both concealed by sliding translucent glass doors). More modest types can spare their blushes with a curtain that pulls across to hide the area from the rest of the cabin but it does mean that when you have a shower all the water that normally ends up on the bathroom floor now ends up on the cabin floor. It's not helped by the fact that all the towels are stored by the washbasin in the main cabin anyway. So if you forget to pick up a towel before you step into the shower, stand by for a flood! The plus about the cabins, though, is that they are nicely decorated in an elegant, modern fashion, there's plenty of storage space and they have quite a big flat screen LCD TV. And the bed is really comfortable. Five stars all round in that respect.
Now for the positives. Apart from the flaws in the cabin mentioned above and the embarkation/disembarkation Norwegian Epic deserves five stars all round. I don't know whether NCL picked the crew from the best of the crews on their other ships, but it certainly feels like they did. And best of all everyone we saw looked really happy and excited to be working on the Epic.
We tried to sample as many of the dining options and as much of the entertainment as we could in our limited time and it was all excellent. We had (a very delayed) lunch in the Garden Cafe buffet after lifeboat drill on the first day and the variety of food available was probably the best we've seen in any ship's buffet. Lunch on the second day (because of our extended voyage time) was in the main Manhattan Room restaurant and again was first rate - and made even more enjoyable by a special performance of Legends In Concert, an excellent tribute show featuring the likes (or should that be look-alikes) of Madonna, Elvis, Tina Turner et all. And for breakfast we went to O'Sheehan's Bar and Grill, the 24-hour cafe, and had their excellent country breakfast. And as for dinner, well, we had it at the very best show we've ever seen on board a ship - and one of the best we've ever seen on land either: Cirque Dreams. Think Cirque du Soleil in a much more intimate fashion and then some. It's billed as the first "big top" at sea, and it's a dazzling two hours of acrobats, muscle men, trapeze artists, music and comedy all taking place in a 10ft-wide circular area in the middle of the room just feet away from the audience at their dinner tables. Even the waiters take part in the show - as do some lucky people plucked out of the audience by the cast. Like me - I got to play the bells in one of the musical numbers! Before that, we saw the excellent Second City comedy and improv show, from the legendary Chicago breeding ground of many of America's top comedy stars, like Bill Murray and Tina Fey from 30 Rock to name just two. It's very American and as there were a lot of Dutch, German and French passengers on board the audience was quite small - but those who didn't go missed a damn fine show. After Cirque Dreams we tried to get in to see the end of the Blue Man show but the theatre was packed out, so instead we stopped by Howl At The Moon, billed as "the world's greatest rock 'n' roll duelling piano show," for one quick drink and were certainly glad we did - we were still there two and a half hours later having fun singing some of the greatest songs of the last 50 years in another amazing show. So there you have it. Norwegian Epic, the good the bad and the beautiful, and definitely well worth a try.