Although smaller than Royal Caribbean's "Oasis," The Norwegian Epic is still an enormous, 153,000-tons of methodically structured steel. She is an engineering marvel that commands respect among all that witness her size and beauty. At the mere age of 6, my daughter has already become a cruising fan after I introduced her to her very first voyage, last year upon the Disney Wonder. That's all it took, she was hooked! Among the hype of the new ship itself, Norwegian's website and customer services reps boast of the "exciting" Nickelodeon theme for children aboard the Epic. And so it was a "no-brainer," that was all the lure I needed to book the cruise with NCL. Upon arriving at the Port of Miami, My daughter and I were estatic!
The magnificent ship, Nickelodeon, palm trees, the blue Caribbean, and an enticing warm sea-breeze that without-a-doubt puts all one's stressors at-bay...or so one may think when jumping to such conclusions. We were greeted with a simple "Welcome Aboard." Are you serious...that's the best you can do? C'mon, Norwegian...you are better than that. Hey, now where do we go? Where is our stateroom...where is the buffet...what is going on...why is no one explaining any of this when you board the ship?? The passengers were left to fend for themselves by asking crew members where they should go. Crew members were mostly introverted and needed the aid of a cattle-prod to volunteer basic information. Over the course of the week, it became painfully obvious that people-skills and enthusiastic interaction among the crew were all but absent. One exception, however, was the entertainment director who simply goes by: "Silas." He was very engergetic and friendly...too bad his personality was not somehow contagious to the rest of the crew.
I found the actual entertainment to be very good. Such acts as the Blue Man Group and Legends of Rock were both fun and very entertaining, in my opinion. Interestingly enough, other shows came with a fee. There is little actual Nickelodeon activities going on, quite the contrary to what the customer service rep explained to me when I booked the cruise. Characters like Spongebob, Dora, etc..are lazy, and do little more than pose for pictures for an hour at-a-time, then go back into hiding until the next photo session.
Within the first 48-hours on-board, you begin to realize that many activities and services come at additional costs, as do 20 some-odd "specialty" restaurants. Alas...there are many venues aboard which to dine, but only 2 or 3 are included with your cruise fare. The main buffet venue called: "The Garden Cafe," provides a decent variety of foods ranging from hamburgers, salads, pasta, tacos, ice cream, and deli sandwiches. Pretty much your typical buffet offering. O'Sheehan's, (named after NCL's CEO, Kevin Sheehan), is a bar/grill that is free, however only offers such items as mozzarella sticks, wings, burgers, and soup. Essentially the same items found in the Garden Cafe, minus the mozzarella sticks and wings. Crew members are placed at the entrance of the Garden buffet with menus from various other restaurants to persuade you into eating at a "pay restaurant," or what they call "specialty" resturants, which makes up most of the dining facilities on the ship.
With the exception of Disney, most cruise lines make you pay for soft-drinks. Royal Caribbean and Celebrity, however, offer complimentary juices at all times of the day. The Epic only offers water and unsweet brewed tea. Orange, Apple, and Cranberry juice are offered only during breakfast, until 10:30am. So after 10:30am, you or your kids are limited to alcohol, water, or tea. While many adults choose to bake in the sun all day by the pool and drink beer or mixed drinks, we cannot really offer that to our kids, so ...it's just plain water for the rest of the day. I voiced my concern to the Guest Services manager on Monday afternoon, and I recieved a call from the Food and Beverage manager Thursday evening, telling me that there is apple juice available, but I would have to find the food manager and ask for it. Sodas? An unlimited soda pass for the week is $60.00/person. I do not spend $60 on soda for an entire year. For my inconveniences, they sent us a small plate of assorted chocolates?? Again, major communication gap within the ranks of the crew.
The Epic's 2-small narrow/small pools are extremely odd, and appear to be an afterthought. The crew managing the Garden Cafe, and the Great Outdoors Cafe, ran around chaotically trying to figure out why with 4,000 guests, ice-macines kept running out of ice, coffee machines kept running out of coffee, etc... There were plenty of "officers" walking around all week looking important and talking on their radios, but it did very little to fix drink and food supply issues they were having.
Since NCL automatically deducts $12/day/person for "Service Fees," they are not in any apparent rush to listen to your problems or fix them. If you make a request to the staff, they make it very obvious that they are not intersted in helping you, unless you spend more money. On my visit to Guest Services...I asked for a Guest Feedback Survey Form, I was told that NCL offers no surveys for guests to fill-out. "So how do you know how you are doing?" She replied by asking me if instead of talking about all this feedback business, would I be interested in giving them a deposit to book another NCL cruise? Whoa..we obviously are not speaking the same language here!
In-the-end, my daughter and I had fun. More so because of our bonding experience, and not-so-much the ship or the strange crew from Mars. Actually it was almost if the whole crew was the Blue Man Group. They do not talk, smile, or help. They just take your money, and point to where the casino or bar is located. They never point to the "free" areas. I had no problems with the staterooms. In my opinion, the rooms were fine. Yes the sink is small and water splashes everywhere, but it is not my house, so if they do not care about it, then why should I? And the sink was actually the least of my concerns.
Made, our room steward, was very kind and friendly. We never met the ship's captain, and he spoke very little over the PA-system. So here is my review conclusion...The wealthy first-time cruiser may actually enjoy this ship, since they have nothing to compare it to, but it will not be quick to impress the middle-class cruising connoisseur. I believe that NCL CEO, Kevin Sheehan and Global Sales Exec, Andy Stuart should both take a week-long cruise on Royal Caribbean or the Celebrity Solstice and bring notepads with them.
It became very apparent near the end of the week, that many guests were starting to become "unglued," over many of the same issues mentioned above. NCL needs to do some major PR Damage Control and nip these issues in the bud, now! The Epic is a beautiful ship, with poor logistics and customer service support. But that alone is enough for me to stay away from Norwegian Cruise Lines until they change their pompous attitude.