First let me say that as we approached the cruise terminal in Southampton we were amazed that we were actually boarding the ship as planned. Her "setbacks" shall we say in the build had us greatly concerned at times (for the unaware, a broken engine and a few fires had caused a few hiccups!). I'd been concerned enough that I had at least two contingency plans in place in the event that the cruise was cancelled. Even as we approached the ship, I wondered if our cabin would be available as the reports from her cruise from Rotterdam to Southampton indicated that the courtyard was not finished...we of course were staying in the courtyard in an A3, in an area affectionately known as "the hat" among our CC roll call members. Oh and on the cruise from Rotterdam she experienced a propeller shaft problem, arriving hours late in Southampton, and leaving a day late for the schedule travel agent cruise. Seriously, we never thought this cruise was going to happen!
The morning of the cruise, we awakened in Southampton (Jury's Inn, 69 GBP including breakfast) and immediately checked a blog being written by fellow cruisers. Yippee! A very early riser had posted a picture of the Epic arriving in Southampton at 5:30 in the morning. Yes, she had arrived and was waiting for us; her first passengers for a full-length voyage.
I think my first words upon seeing her at the pier were "Holy cow!" I wished I been more eloquent, but I was stunned by her size. Truly a floating city and thankfully more attractive than the early drawings made her appear. She's huge, but more balanced than I thought she would be. Is she elegant (from the outside)? No. But none of these mega-ships today are. She is well-proportioned and definitely catches your eye.
The cruise terminal was holding everyone at bay until 11:00 am when they'd begin getting us all through security. They tried to get us to go to another building to await being called (and quite a few obedient folks did leave), but you weren't going to budge us. We'd waited a long time for this moment and wanted to be among the first processed (plus we were still wondering what cabin we would have!).
From the moment that they gave us the go sign and "released the hounds" until the moment we were seated in the VIP area, 30 minutes passed. Not too shabby. Concierges extraordinaire, Karan and Anshuman were there to greet us and give us our keycards. I didn't know if they'd be set up for anything yet, but had a list of the dinner reservations that we wanted to make just in case. Of course Karan took it from me speaking his catch phrase in the making: "No problem".
As we waited for boarding to begin we touched base with folks that we only knew from Cruise Critic (it's wonderful to put faces with names) and the time passed quickly. DH thumbed through the Freestyle Daily and realized that the back page was perforated. You can now just tear off the strip with the day's events on it rather than carting around the whole thing. Good idea! When we were called to board, we all surged forward, so anxious we were to finally be on this much anticipated ship!
Our key cards were quickly scanned by the bar code instead of being swiped through the reader. A small time savings that will make a big difference I think on port days. We entered the ship on deck 5 and found ourselves in the atrium. Would you believe that we'd been on board for about 10 seconds when the power went out? The emergency lights kicked on but it was a disorienting 30 seconds or so. I'd studied the deckplans and knew which way to head but was a bit daunted to find that the power outage had knocked the elevators out of service. The crew didn't realize this as they continued to direct us to the elevators. Well, we sucked it up and climbed the eleven floors to our floor! Thank goodness we've been working out!
At last we arrived in our stateroom (it was ready as we were the first ones to use it!). A bit more narrow than the A3's on the jewel class ships, a nicely sized and appointed stateroom nevertheless. We had the small second bedroom that we'd assign to our luggage. A small dining area with a bar area (dark wood and yes, the Lavazza machine!), a leather sofa and chair in cream with deep pink accent pillows. Beautiful, bright Asian influenced artwork, a bed with slightly rounded corners and pink accent lighting above the bed. Marvelous bath with 2 sinks and floor-to-ceiling windows at the deep tub and wonderfully large shower.
Ship mail was already in the room...one envelope containing all of our platinum perks. Yes, we'd be able to have laundry done and a behind the scenes tour was offered (we just hadn't wanted to count on anything with this being her first real cruise). There was also a letter apologizing for the courtyard fitness area not being ready. As a result we were getting a very generous future cruise credit. Thanks, NCL!
We walked around the courtyard, so big! Two hot tubs and a small pool. Chaises in black wicker with cream colored cushions. Very elegant and calming in appearance. NCL really pulled out the stops with the courtyard area. The suites now have their own restaurant (the Epic Club) and two bars (just on the main floor). Saunas and steam rooms and a nice fitness center (once it's finished) and the only outdoor space at the front of the ship is reserved for the suite guests.
Of course we were going to dine at the Epic Club for lunch and joined our new friends from CC. The menu is basically the Cagney's lunch menu so I had my beloved asparagus salad and the bruschetta. DH had corn chowder and the seared scallops. Service was slow but we were the very first people eating at this restaurant. They hadn't even gotten it set up in time to do rehearsals with the crew. In fact we found out later that the outdoor bar area (red cushions on the black wicker, more red Asian art) had been empty just that morning. The crew didn't think there was any way the space would be ready in time for our arrival.
The life boat drill, as reported, no longer requires you to cart around your life jackets! Yay! But this European sailing had them giving all of the instructions in four languages, so the drill took quite a while. Once that formality was completed we darted up to the deck 18 forward area that I mentioned before. It's tricky to get to as you have to go through the changing areas to find the secret stairs, but oh what a view!
Klaus Lugmaier the master of bringing out new ships for NCL and temporarily one of the hotel directors on board, came by and watched some of sailaway with us saying it was the first time he'd stopped for five minutes since he'd been on the ship. Seeing everything they'd done (and the work that we continue as we sailed) I believe him.
The sun was shining as we pulled away from Southampton. Oh what a sight! There's nothing like pushing away from that first pier after you've boarded a ship. We were finally on vacation. And despite all of our worries, we were right on time and in the cabin we'd originally booked. Going back to our room to dress for dinner we discovered the first issue. Our key cards didn't access the courtyard area! Sean Wurmhoeringer (the other HD who will take over the ship once she gets through this "roll out" period) was at the concierge desk and personally took care of us getting new cards. (I'd see many replacement cards issued over the first couple of days!)
Our first dinner was at Cagney's...it feels so weird to have Cagney's be on deck seven and at the back of the ship! I didn't realize until we arrived that Cagney's and Moderno (the Brazilian steakhouse) formed a circle overlooking the Manhattan room. I knew that the dance floor in the Manhattan room was surrounded by two floors, but I'd erroneously thought that the Manhattan room was two floors. Dinner at Cagney's was as great as always. Loved the crab cakes and the steak (and lamb) were perfect.
After dinner we experienced our first truly "epic" moment. We went to Fat Cats and discovered the Slam Allen Blues Band. It reminded me of hole-in-the-wall clubs I'd been to in Vegas years ago (minus the cigarette smoke) and Slam and his band are a seriously talented group of guys (we'd later find out that Simon Murray discovered them in Nashville). It was truly the best hour and a half or so that I'd ever spent on a ship entertainment-wise. WOW! And even looking back at all that we experienced, they remain my favorite entertainment experience in all of my many cruises.
Back at our cabin we found that our room had never been turned down. I can't say I was upset though. I am perfectly capable of taking the decorative pillows off of my bed and I figured that with the courtyard having just been opened, a routine had yet to be established. I'd also heard murmurs of no air conditioning, no phones and no TV so my issue was slight at best.
Day Two...at sea...(you'll notice a pattern here!)
Breakfast at the Epic Club. Same menu as the suite breakfast at Cagney's. DH had the filet and eggs, I had the warm banana pancakes. The side buffet is extensive with the best fruit selection I've ever seen at sea. The old favorites were there, including melon and pineapple, but there were also fresh sliced strawberries, blueberries, and plump blackberries and raspberries.
After breakfast it's tradition for us to walk off some of that meal, so we went to the jogging track. This is the only space on the Epic that I just don't like. This is an area we use extensively on other ships and to have it be so limited is an extreme disappointment. Unlike on other ships the Epic's promenade doesn't circle the ship. The ships I've sailed on recently have a jogging track for runners and the promenade is left for people to walk, stroll and relax. With the Epic, one side of the promenade is for shuffleboard and the other side for jogging, with two narrow lanes painted on the deck that direct you to run in a loop. This is a tight area when you have walkers, joggers and runners all vying for space. This morning it was made even tighter by a "promenade zamboni" driving up and down the area, cleaning the track. To top it off the lifeboats hang down parallel to the promenade so your view of the ocean is severely hampered. A view people without a balcony will sorely miss on this ship.
On a comical note (to me anyway) 3.8 loops makes a mile...which makes this track just a smidge bigger than the promenade on the Majesty which was ¼ mile even. The Epic, the second largest cruise ship in the world, truly is a big lady.
A quick dash back to the room for a shower. We had a meet and greet to attend! This was the most active roll call we'd ever been part of and around a hundred folks had signed up for the meet and greet which was being held in Le Bistro at 10:30 am. We arrived a few minutes early and grabbed what we hoped was a good spot. One of our roll call members had made the most amazing nametags with our names, pictures of the Epic and the date of our sailing that she'd laminated to be worn with a lanyard. Just receiving that keepsake made attending the M&G worthwhile! Of course it didn't stop there. NCL really makes a nice effort with these gatherings, putting out juices, coffee, water and pastries. The real bonus comes though when members of the senior staff show up. Knowing that Klaus and Sean were heading things up, we knew this would be well-attended and we were not disappointed. Captain Trygre Vorren is very engaging with a wonderful sense of humor and welcomed us with a nice speech and jokes about him too not having telephone, television or computer service! Klaus and Sean were of course there along with Simon Murray (some may recognize him as the cruise director from the CNBC special about the Pearl...he's now the Entertainment Director) and a surprise visit from Sponge Bob and Dora the Explorer! Klaus as always gave out his phone number and the numbers of the rest of the officers (except the Captain!) and he means it when he says he wants you to call if you have any problems. He also stayed around until the last guest left addressing any and all concerns on the spot.
Now we begin our first real exploration of the ship. Not that we didn't look around that first day (and take plenty of photos!) but now we'd start to really look at the Epic's public areas and take note. First let me say that she is nothing like any other ship we've been on so we carried around our ship map for the first 4 days we were on board. Even after that we'd refer to it to make sure we knew where we were going.
The Garden Cafe is an amazing buffet. Enormous and gorgeous, she easily accommodated the 3,500 or so passengers sailing with us. The space is run as efficiently as the Secret Service. A crack team wearing headsets patrols the seating areas, scanning for vacant tables, directing customers and reporting back to a central person who is stationed at the main entrance. He or she then lets customers know which way they can find seating. At no time did we have a problem finding a seat during the week. Of course the Epic can hold about 1,700 more guests than we sailed with so it'll be interesting to read what future guests think!
The pool deck has the much-talked about and anticipated Epic Plunge plus two additional waterslides, which complete the water park. There are two pools in this main area plus a pool in the aft of the ship at Spice H20. (Although I have to admit I only saw this pool empty being used as a stage for performers, so I'm not sure how that will work.) There is an area called the Marketplace that was being finished. I can only guess that some shopping will occur there? You have the giant rock climbing wall and the repelling wall. The space is so large, they even have signposts directing you (you'll find the signs on deck seven as well where the shops are...I have to say they were very useful in getting your bearings!).
By now we decided to take advantage of the Courtyard and veg out for a bit before dinner. The Courtyard was breezy but sunny and we relaxed for an hour our so in this very comfortable spot. I realized around now that I hadn't received a confirmation for our dinner requests. Turns out that computers weren't working and Anshuman and Karan didn't have printers. That would explain it! I couldn't remember what I asked for (I'd written it down so long ago!) but they looked it up for me and wrote it down the old fashioned way...with pen and paper.
Dinner tonight would be the Epic Club. No reservations required and currently only open to suite guests. The menu is a bit different from the other restaurants (but did I take a picture of this? No, of course not!). I had a shrimp entrEe that was simply delicious and the rest of our party had the duck, which they enjoyed tremendously.
After dinner we popped into Fat Cats again to see Slam and then just walked around the ship. The next night would be Cirque Dreams and we couldn't wait for this new experience!
Decided to try out the buffet for breakfast. The woman at the entrance let us know that there were tables available to the left. We did the circuit, deciding what we wanted to eat. They really have everything you could want from cold and hot cereals to pancakes and waffles to made-to-order eggs to corned beef hash and sausage and biscuits. Not to mention all of the fresh fruits, breads and your typical breakfast standards of scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon, ham, etc. I settled for an egg white omelet at the omelet station and DH got 2 eggs over easy to go with his corned beef hash. All were delicious and although one of us guarded our table while the other got their food, we could have picked our food first then found a table together. The seating was ample this morning.
Later in the cruise people would realize that being in the front of the ship, the buffet had some stellar views. After that we'd find people staked out at the tables near the windows and seating got tighter (still never waited for a table though!).
Since I was off to a good start with my egg whites, I decided to check out the fitness center (plus it was foggy and chilly out). This is a good sized space with every piece of equipment that I can think of. Ample treadmills and ellipticals meant there was never a wait. There were four stationary bikes (and only three worked) so those were a hot commodity. There were a number of recumbent bikes though, weight machines, pilates machines and a room set up for spin-classes. They offered numerous classes throughout the cruise, although most for a fee. You could sign up at the beginning of the cruise, but if you did, you had to sign up for four sessions. I found this to be both expensive and not necessarily good schedule-wise. For example four bootcamp classes were $160 and two were at 9:00 am and two at 3:00 p m (different days of course). You could show up the day of the class, but if you weren't pre-registered, you could be turned away (I noticed a few of the classes filled up that first day). I understand needing reservations with that many passengers on board, but would prefer that you didn't have to buy a package for the privilege of a reservation.
We enjoyed the buffet so much for breakfast that we went again for lunch. For those of you who like Indian food, NCL has some of the best in their buffet. DH enjoyed that while I had a little bit of everything (seems like I always eat too much at a buffet) and had one of my favorite items at sea...a pretzel roll!
We can see that things are slowly improving on board. There are less and less people complaining at the concierge desk, less lines at reception, less key cards being replaced, printers and computers are up and running and you can see the tension slowly leave faces as everyone, passenger and crew alike got into the routine of being on a cruise. Everyday new channels on the television go live (finally have a navigation channel!). We've been really lucky so far. The only thing we've found wrong with our room was that the stopper in our spare bathroom sink was permanently in the "down" position. We were overdue to hit a snag!
Dressing for dinner had a note of excitement, as we were getting ready for the Cirque Dreams dinner. This is one of the primary reasons we'd booked the Epic, a chance to check out all of the entertainment and innovations that were unique to her. We arrived at the Spiegel Tent about 10 minutes before show time. There was a fair line (Hey, there's a couple in line that was on a tour with us in Iceland! What are the odds???) but it moved quickly. After our cards were scanned (they don't issue paper tickets, instead everything is tied to your key card) it became clear that there was a problem. The movement of the line slowed to a crawl and the woman who was seating people was clearly agitated. Other employees joined her, scanning the seating area and whispering. This didn't bode well...and sure enough, when we were next to be seated, the curtain was literally closed in our faces as my group of four and about 6 others were turned away.
Now we didn't book this cruise without expecting some issues. I think you'd have to be crazy to expect the maiden voyage of any ship to be without flaws, let alone the Epic with all of her one-of-a-kind products. I'm not one to make a fuss, especially with the people who'd been behind us doing that quite well. I stood by quietly while the men from the individual parties were yelling at the poor box office manager Clair that they'd "made reservations a month ago and that this was unacceptable, I demand compensation", yadda, yadda, yadda. Clair held her composure and in between the squawking being hurled at her she told us that we could be switched to another of two shows. So no problem. After the other parties had stomped away with much higher blood pressure (I think one of them shook his toupee loose), we changed our reservation to Tuesday and she assisted us in getting into LeBistro right away, as that was what we currently had planned for Tuesday night. (In fact her assistance was unnecessary as LeBistro wasn't full, but it's the thought that counts.) Would I have been more upset if we'd been told we'd miss the show altogether? Sure. But that wasn't the case, so we moved on.
Here we encountered a kink in the system. Our dinner at LeBistro is complimentary as we are Platinum Latitudes. That means we get a free bottle of wine from a limited wine list. Well the "sommelier" came over and began asking me about what wines I like, white, or red, fruity, dry, etc. I finally asked if I could just see the list and was told they didn't have one yet. Ah. Okay. So I asked for a sauvignon blanc. Well, she brought out a fume blanc that I don't really care for so I rejected that bottle. She kind of argued for a moment until I firmly told her no. She brought out a better bottle after that. I really don't like to argue, and maybe I was a little aggravated after the Cirque issue, but why should I be forced to have a wine I wouldn't order myself?
Past that snafu, dinner was great. Our respective people consumed wonderful escargots, mushroom soup, French onion soup, beef tenderloin, and lamb chops. (I know, I know, some of you are thinking with all that meat, the convention is to have red wine, but I prefer white!)
After dinner we paused in the atrium to watch some of the World Cup match being shown on the big screen. Klaus walked by and DH snagged him to let him know what happened with the Cirque dinner. His immediate reaction was that we should have called him, but we assured him that it had been handled, we'd been rescheduled and the main reason we were telling him was to make him aware that they had a problem (and some angry customers). Clair insisted that people had gotten in who didn't have a reservation as it was impossible that they'd over-booked. I think it was probably a combination of over-booking and people sneaking in. Regardless, it is a problem to be addressed.
We returned to our room to change out of our dinner clothes when there was a knock on the door. It was Karan letting us know that the Legends in Concert would be performing the next evening. Klaus had told us the first day that they weren't quite ready yet, but that he'd been hopefully that they'd be able to have a show later in the week. As they share the Epic Theater with the Blue Man Group, they would have two performances in the theater the same night and would have two "unplugged" shows at the Manhattan Room. This would be on a first come first serve basis as they hadn't been any way to allow for reservations when they didn't know if they'd even be performing.
Day Four... As I mentioned before, we'd received notice that we could take advantage of the Platinum Perk of having the free bag of laundry done (not including dry cleaning). The letter was a little confusing. The beginning of the letter stated you could do this on the day of your choosing (yay!). But the second paragraph said to wait until the $25 bag special. Well I hadn't seen the special offered at this point and decided to take a shot and gathered up our laundry. I figured I could always point back to the letter if there was a problem. So we left the bag of laundry for our steward, Orlando, and went to breakfast.
Breakfast at Epic Club (eggs benny) then off to explore and do a little shopping.
The shopping area on deck seven is massive compared to what is offered on the rest of NCL's ships. There are four separate stores just for souvenirs, clothes (from souvenir T's to name brands like Guess), accessories, (purses, scarves, sunglasses, etc). They have a small candy store with numerous old-style treats that you purchase by weight, which is kind of neat. There is of course a jewelry store and a central, circular area the main hallway cuts through with your perfumes and high-end cosmetics. As you continue down the hall they have an area set up where they put out the specials that changed daily (watches one day, jewelry by the inch another...). Oddly the duty free alcohol and cigarette shop isn't with the other shops. You continue toward the aft of the ship, passing bar central and Wasabi/Teppanyaki, and you'll find it by the Barber Shop. The Barber Shop is a great idea by the way and we saw numerous men taking advantage of haircuts and professional shaves.
Deck six houses the casino, which is, like so much on Epic, enormous. I'd estimate that the casino takes up a quarter of deck six. If you're passing from on end of the ship to the other on deck six, you have to walk through the casino. The escalators (yes, I said escalators) from deck 5 bring you right to the casino. Pretty smart on NCL's part to facilitate the use of this money-maker. (Although I have to admit we didn't gamble at all on this trip!) For restaurants, deck six has, O'Sheehan's, (which has bowling lanes in addition to what can be found in Bliss), the Manhattan Room (a main dining room), Shanghai's and the Speigel Tent. Headliner's Comedy Club and Fat Cats can be found here as well.
Deck Five houses the other main dining room, Taste (with a great view of the the largest LED chandelier at sea), Le Bistro, your reception area along with the Internet Cafe and photo gallery. The Atrium is here as well and throughout the cruise we'd see people playing Wii on the big screen or watching the World Cup. O'Sheehan's overlooks the big screen as well and on match days this area could get quite crowded.
The weather was still murky, but maybe a tad warmer so I hit the jogging track for an hour. My timing was excellent as I reached a space between two lifeboats and spotted a pod of dolphins frolicking along side the ship. I paused for a minute to watch them, and then continued on. Have to do something to combat all of the food!
While in our room, dressing for dinner, Orlando delivered our freshly washed and folded laundry. I couldn't believe that it arrived the same day. Neither could he. He said he was just checking on the status and found that it was done. Had I known the turn-around would be so quick, I would have sent a couple of more items! I wouldn't count on this next time though. I imagine with the ship full, the folks in the laundry will be up to their eyeballs, but it was a lovely surprise.
Tonight we had dinner at Shanghai. The atmosphere is lovely and the waitresses all wear Asian style dresses in keeping with the theme. Didn't receive the edamame snack that I've had on other ships. Instead they gave us a bowl of puffed rice chips (for lack of a better description...they kind of looked like big pork rinds) and three dipping sauces to sample. The food was not the best. DH loved his lamb and my Singapore noodles were good, but the hot and sour soup had no "hot" and my friend's cashew chicken had no cashews. Oh and the chicken for my lettuce wraps was stone cold (tasty but cold) while the rest of the table's chicken was hot. Not anything worth complaining about, but not the best meal I've had at an Asian restaurant on NCL.
In anticipation of the Legends show, we were at the Epic Theater an hour early. Although this was a tedious hour to pass, I'm glad we were there. Many, many people were turned away and we'd later hear that the line, after the doors had closed, stretched all the way to O'Sheehans (mid-ship). Simon finally made an announcement to those who were holding seats for friends that the doors were closed, that their friends or family weren't getting in, and they needed to stop holding those empty seats.
I'm glad that the show was able to take place and that we were able to experience it. The performers currently with the show are Tina Turner, Madonna, and Elvis. They performed in that order and I think their skill level was in that order as well. Tina was okay, the woman doing Madonna better and the guy doing Elvis seemed to me to have "The King's" voice spot on. I hadn't been to a Legends show before and found it interesting that they play video of the real singers performing (except for in Madonna's case where they showed clips from her videos) the same songs and in the case of Elvis, even in the same outfit. It really brought the whole experience to life. It was a very good show and I think it has a leg up on the other shows on Epic in that the artists will change. So for example Elvis will move on and could be replaced by Michael Jackson or Tom Petty. So the Legends show will be constantly changing while Cirque Dreams and Blue Man Group will remain the same. For the repeat cruiser, the change will be appealing.
Day Five...yes, we're still at sea...
I neglected to mention this sooner, but for the last two days we've encountered a fair amount of wind that has turned the Courtyard into a giant wind tunnel that is shredding their decorative plants and renders the Courtyard unusable. The outdoor Epic Club bar and seating area has also not been used and in fact the wind is so bad that they closed that entrance to the restaurant and you had to go through the Epic Lounge. Today was not an exception, and I have to hope NCL is re-thinking the omission of the retractable ceiling, or at least working on a solution.
Today we look forward to taking a small behind the scenes tour. It is my understanding that this was only offered to Platinum guests and it wasn't the fully comprehensive tour that we had on the Gem earlier this year. We wouldn't be going into the "bowels" of the ship to check out the galleys, laundry, food prep, etc. I was thrilled that they were offering anything at all and leapt at the chance to learn anything "extra" about the Epic.
Our first stop was Cagney's and Moderno. Executive Chef Anil Kumar was kind enough to take time out of his day to talk about the operation of these two restaurants. He is one of three executive chefs currently on board. Eventually only one executive chef will run the Epic's many galley facilities. Chef Anil explained how the prep area of Cagney's works. Made me think of Hell's Kitchen the way he described it, with the head chef barking orders to the sous chefs and they had better be listening (he emphasized that the head chef will not repeat an order as they haven't the time). He took us into a portion of the galley in Moderno and showed us the rotisserie grill they use to cook all of their meats (he was anticipating another one would be installed in NYC as one grill isn't enough).
Next we were taken to the Epic Theater where the production manager Jeremy gave us a nice talk. He'd been working since January to get everything up and running. He talked about the technology of the stage. There is a lift built into the floor to move stuff around easily. All of the lights lower to stage level so no more climbing into scaffolding to change lights. He talked about the unique challenge of having shows with their own production teams and set designs swapping out in the theater. In addition to Legends in Concert and Blue Man Group, once in Miami, a matinee produced by Nickelodeon will join the rotation. We learned that cleaning up after Blue Man Group is a challenge and they have to hit the stage right away with wet vacs and squeegees. We also learned that they are four "Blue Men". They can play all three parts and all of them in fact have hair. LOL
The next stop was the bridge. Captain Vorren very kindly gave special permission for us to actually be on the bridge this day and First Officer Carl was generous with his time. When asked why they hadn't been sounding the foghorn, he joked that the horn was too close to the suites. But then said that in our days at sea, the nearest ship had been 35 miles away, so there was no need. Also with today's technology, the foghorn wasn't often necessary. All equipment on the Epic's bridge is state of the art, but even then they still refer to paper charts and need to know how to read the stars. DH asked how fast what the top speed they achieved during sea trials and Carl said they reached nearly 24 knots. The QM2, being an ocean liner can hit about 30 knots. At one point, what sounded like an alarm began to sound...people in our group began to look at each other nervously while Carl continued to talk, unconcerned. Finally someone asked what that alarm was and Carl looked confused for a moment and then laughed, "That's the phone!"
It was a great tour, all together lasting a little over an hour. It was really generous of NCL to offer the tour while so much else was going on, working out the finishing touches on the ship.
We had dinner at LaCucina. The restaurant is all the way forward on deck 14 and has to be accessed by a set of stairs in the Garden Cafe. The dEcor is lovely, including an olive tree dominating the center of the restaurant. The food is good especially with only a $10 cover charge per person. There wasn't an antipasto trolley like they offer on the Gem and Pearl. Instead they gave you a platter with a few bites including, prosciutto, roasted red peppers, roasted tomatoes, olives, and what we think was a zucchini quiche. I ordered the margherita pizza wanting to compare it to the pizza in the buffet and found it delicious. (I really do like the pizza in the buffet too!)
After dinner we had the Blue Man Group. We'd asked Anshuman and Karan how early should we get there for our 9:45 show and Karan suggested arriving no later than 9:20 (and told us that reservations get cancelled five minutes before the show). We got to the theater at 9:15 and the line stretched all the way back to O'Sheehan's. It took about 20 minutes for us to make our way inside, but found plenty of seats available. We decided to take the seats in the very back which, offered cushy chairs with small tables in between them. The theater is small enough that even from that vantage point we could clearly see the stage including the expressions on the Blue Men.
Having never seen the show, I didn't know what to expect. I had a vague image of shiny blue men banging on various things for an hour or so. The show was so much more than that! Cleverly funny, lots of audience participation, and ultimately the best production show I've ever seen at sea. A thoroughly enjoyable 75 minutes, especially as it's free. Definitely get your reservations early, as you don't want to miss this show.
After Blue Man we briefly popped our heads into the White Hot Party. It had been scheduled poolside, but due to the foggy and chilly weather, had been moved into Bliss. NCL has hired professional "scratch" DJ's and they had the place hopping.
We had a busy day planned. After breakfast and a workout (back in the fitness center...darn weather!) we decided to eat in O'Sheehan's for lunch. It was noontime and the place was hopping (another Cup Match was also being played) but we were able to find seating on the restaurant side (the other side of the aisle is the "bar" side). We placed our order (wings, artichoke dip, fish and chips and the corned beef sandwich) and then waited over 30 minutes for our food to arrive. At first I chalked this up to how busy the place was, but I saw other tables orders arriving very quickly. When our food did come it was all plopped down at once (I didn't notice this with other tables which were being served in courses). I have to admit disappointment. The wings were cold and despite hearing great things about the fish and chips and the corned beef, they were just okay. The artichoke and spinach dip though was hot, tasty and definitely the hit of the meal (and I've heard bad reviews on this item on other ships...go figure). O'Sheehan's is open 24 hours a day and has a limited breakfast menu available at all times (which we didn't get to try unfortunately). I would definitely recommend O'Sheehan's for a quick bite or for breakfast as I heard they weren't very crowded in the morning.
Well, the rest of the day was busy, busy, busy. We had a cabin crawl arranged by one of our Cruise Critic members at 2:00. A HUGE thank you to Sharon for organizing all that and an equally BIG thanks to everyone who was willing to let strangers poke into your room and take pictures!
We met outside of Cagney's. There were forty of us "crawling" so we were split into two groups. One of the butlers, Chris, was on hand to help us gain access to the studio area. We were able to see balcony cabins, deluxe balconies (think mini-suite with the slightly larger space and tub), inside cabin and a studio, which I know I was very curious about. The studio room at 100 sq feet is as small as expected, but decorated in a hip manner. The Living Room was smaller than I expected given the number of studios, but sported a full bar, a bit of seating from bar stools to comfy chairs and had televisions. I also spotted a vending machine area for snacks as we were walking. I can definitely see the Studio area being a hip place to hang out. We also saw a spa suite and a forward A3 which with the solarium (16001) rather than balcony. Probably the perfect room for this cruise with our problematic weather! This A3 was also a bit larger than ours. The living room was at least 1-2 feet wider. Good to know if you're looking for a little more space for a family.
The crawl wrapped up just in time for us to attend a wine tasting. The president of St. Francis vineyards in Sonoma Valley was on board and gave a nice little talk along with samples of three of their wines. We enjoyed this so much that we may very well tour his vineyard when we're in the area next April.
We were now off to get ready for the Cirque dinner...again. Clair was so paranoid about us making it to the show that Anshuman had been instructed to escort us down to the show at 5:00. Well at 4:55 there was a knock on the door. The friends we were dining with had been sent by Anshuman to get us. They were determined that we would not miss this show...our room was only a 15 second walk to the concierge desk where we were meeting! We went downstairs, had our keycards scanned and were quickly seated in a nice booth for four. We had opted out of premium seating as none of us wished to become part of the show. The tradeoff however was that we had a somewhat obstructed view as we couldn't see into the second story of the "big top". We didn't miss a lot, but it's something to be aware of.
The show and dinner were great. The dinner is a set menu as they attempt to serve everything as seamlessly and unobtrusively as possible (they will handle requests for allergies though). There was a wedge salad with shrimp, hard-boiled egg and Thousand Island dressing. EntrEe was both a small filet mignon and a stuffed chicken breast with gratin potatoes. Dessert was chocolate decadence with berries.
The show was great and seamless. They are all so talented from the singers to the acrobats to the quick-change artist. There was more than that going on but it was all amazing. I do have to say that I can see that they'd have to cancel the show if there was significant motion from rough seas. Some of the performers do amazing balancing acts that just wouldn't be safe at all if the ship were rockin' and rolling.
The Cirque Dreams venue, even with all scheduled shows cannot accommodate all passengers on the ship. So if you want to go, make your reservations early. They reserve 80% of their tickets to be sold online (available to be booked 45 days before you sail), so that leaves only 20% to be gotten on board (this applies to all of the shows you can reserve with or without a fee).
NCL has knocked entertainment on the high seas out of the park with Epic. Every show proved to be what it was hyped to be and more. DH and I have never enjoyed ourselves so much at shows on any other ship.
After Cirque Dreams we dashed to the VIP cocktail reception (there had been a wine and cheese party for silver through platinum latitudes the day before, but we missed it). This was very well attended with the Captain and both HD's on hand. It was held at Bliss as the Epic Lounge isn't large enough to accommodate everyone. After having a couple of drinks (we passed on the appetizers though having just eaten) we went to Headliners to check out the Howl at the Moon show.
This was the only show that we would attend all week where we would find the venue half empty. The musicians were talented and engaging, but DH thought perhaps the international crowd had too broad a range of interest. They played a Scottish song when they realized a family from Scotland was there. While that family sung along with enthusiasm, the rest of us kind of sat there...and that family left shortly there after, so maybe DH has something. It'll be interesting to see other reviews on this show, especially once the ship hits Miami.
Heading back to our cabin we found that the tornado that had been swirling around the Courtyard had abated somewhat. Taking advantage of this reprieve we quickly donned our bathing suits and hit one of the hot tubs. A most excellent way to end the evening.
Had breakfast at the buffet (great corned beef hash and hockey puck buttermilk biscuits). We took advantage of the calm seas (and little wind for once!) and watched for (and saw!) loads of dolphins. At one point we noticed that the ship appeared to be on maneuvers. I recalled Carl telling us that they would sometimes do this to avoid whales and sure enough we spotted a pair of fins that we guessed were a mother and calf.
What a great way to pass our last morning at sea. We had our last lunch at Epic Club, took a nap, then the four-letter word we all dread. It was time to pack. I always save some wine to make this process a little less painful. So a couple of glasses of chardonnay later, the bags were 95% good to go.
Now it was time for an event I've never seen on a cruise ship. There was an open bar, ship wide from 5:00 - 6:00 pm hosted by Klaus and Sean. They weren't even sneaky about it, putting it in the Freestyle Daily twice and having the CD Silas remind us over the PA system (as if we'd forget!) This was clearly a thank you from them to all the passengers for dealing with the disruptions experienced on this first full-length voyage of the Epic. Well, who are we to turn down free drinks? We went to the Epic Club bar, ended up meeting more fellow Cruise Critics and enjoyed a great hour socializing. Thank you to Klaus and Sean! I do wonder how much that hour cost them...biggest bar tab ever!
It was time to get ready for dinner and we'd chosen Moderno. This was a unique (and delicious) experience that I'd encourage all Epic cruisers to try. Basically, if you like meat, you'll like Moderno. There is an extensive buffet in addition to the meats being offered, but you don't want to fill up too much on the fillers (I highly recommend the Portuguese Black Bean soup though). After you've grabbed your items from the salad bar, you flip over the card at your place setting to the green side and the meats begin to arrive. There are sausages, chicken, beef tenderloin, lamb chops, pork and beef ribs. The best is the "picanha" though, which is a marinated beef sirloin that was to die for. As long as your card is on green, the meat will keep coming (you don't have to accept all offerings though). Once you've had your fill, turn your card to red. Then it's time for dessert.
In the middle of dinner we had to run outside to see the Queen Mary II overtake us. She'd been coming up on us during the day (she left Southampton the day after we did) and when she passed us the two ships were sounding their horns back and forth. Talk about Epic experiences!
After dinner we had coveted reservations at the Ice Bar. $20 pp got you two chilly drinks (DH didn't care for the fruity offerings and asked for and was served a straight up vodka) served in an ice glass. They gave you warm ponchos to put on with faux fur trim and gloves. Definitely do not wear sandals and do wear pants! A very "cool" experience and worth doing at least once I'd say. For those wondering, we did see a child in there...and there are non-alcoholic selections, so that question appears answered.
We were supposed to go to Second City after this, but decided to pass. We've seen the Second City a few times on other ships, and have enjoyed the shows, but opted to spend our last evening in the hot tub just relaxing and reflecting on our Epic experience.
Final morning... Up at 7:00 and realized the Verrazano-Narrows bridge was in sight. That had us scrapping our plans for one final breakfast at the Epic Club. Instead we grabbed a quick meal at the buffet (which we brought back to our room to eat) then went to the forward deck to watch our arrival in NYC. A news helicopter buzzed us and the cruise director began directing people to go outside as early as 7:30 trying to ensure plenty of people on decks and balconies for the photo-ops. NCL couldn't have asked for a better day as it was in the 60's without a cloud in the sky (figures!) as we made our slow passage up the Hudson.
As we neared the bridge I think more than a few of us were holding our breaths to see if she had enough clearance. We passed with a bit of room to spare (thank goodness!). Measure twice, cut once!
Lady Liberty greeted us, the sun glinting off of her torch (a sight that never gets old) and we finally arrived at pier 88 at 9:45. What transpired next was curious indeed. The Epic began lowering lifeboats on the starboard side. The first five in fact making it apparent that the ship couldn't dock with the lifeboats in place (they would have interfered with the gangways). So that took some time. It was a little after our 10:00 arrival time that the Epic's first rope was thrown to a dockworker. Cheers went up both from the pier and the ship when this occurred, welcoming the Epic to NYC.
We passed time waiting to disembark by soaking up sun in the Courtyard. Better late than never! Disembarkation was halted due to too many people trying to pass through customs.
At around 11:45 we left the ship and quickly found our luggage (after a last good-bye to Sean who was at the base of one of the gangways). When we hit customs the US line was relatively short and fast-moving. The line for international passengers was hundreds deep. We would later hear that it would take hours after our debarkation for the last passengers to be cleared. The delay was apparently due, in part, to the Epic being the largest cruise ship to ever dock in New York.
By 12:15 we were in a cab headed to JFK (there is a taxi stand across the street and the fare to JFK is a fixed $45 plus tolls).
Our final thought is that the Epic is everything she's been hyped to be. Unique and stunning, she's definitely a destination unto herself. We never expected everything on the cruise to be perfect. With a maiden voyage we felt that you just shouldn't count on anything, and when you start throwing in the challenges endured during her build, well we were lucky she sailed with us at all. We had anticipated some glitches and problems with the new build, and there were some, but what impressed us was the crew and staff's response to any issues addressing and fixing problems as they came to light. She truly has the best crew at sea and it was wonderful to watch them relax as all of their hard work came to light and to see the pride they all had at bringing her to us. For those of you who have her booked, you'll love her. For those of you who haven't, what are you waiting for?