Let me begin by stating that I have been a loyal NCL client for several years traveling in older ships like the Sun and the Sky as well as some of their new ones such as the Pearl the Dawn and the Pride of America, and always enjoyed the entire experience from start to finish. I especially enjoyed the freestyle approach to traditional cruising and their casual and friendly atmosphere. It was with great anticipation that I waited for the chance to sail in their newest and much publicized ship; the Epic. Unfortunately my schedule did not allow me any free time during the year except for the holidays so I decided that a Christmas/New Year cruise would be a great way to spend the holidays, yes it was almost double the price of regular sailing but I thought from previous experience that it would be a special trip.
From the very beginning it seemed that everything went wrong, the check in process was horrendous although we queued behind the line that was marked as “Latitudes Express Check-in” we quickly noticed that the other two lines for regular check in were moving quite speedier than ours. It then became obvious what the issue was, there were three sets of desks with four agents each; the express line with four agents was handling twice as many number of guests than the regular lines because there seemed to be more latitude members than not, so the express check in became the wait forever check-in. After the hour and a half wait to check in (double the regular line) my wife and I finally were able to board, we could hardly contain our excitement as we almost sprinted to the gang way and onboard. It was as if someone had deflated the tires out of our brand new car, to our surprise and disappointment when we entered the ship there was no great entrance, no beautiful atrium or lavish lobby, whereas most ships would give you the best possible best impression upon first boarding; this ship decided that entering through the Casino was the best possible impression. The air was thick with the stench of cigarettes and it was dark and uninviting. Rows and Rows of Slot Machines and card tables was what we saw for as far as we could see. There was no one welcoming us aboard, in previous trips there was always crew members that with warm smiles welcomed us aboard, offered us a complimentary drink and directed us where to go. Absolutely no one even acknowledge us, the few crew members we could see were nowhere near the entrance and seemed pre-occupied with other duties. This was a Christmas/New Year’s trip, I had paid premium for this because the same cabin at any other date was 40% cheaper than what I paid; and there was nothing to signify that this was in any way special. Because no one directed us where to go we tried to go to our cabin, it was already past 2:00pm and assumed that the cabin was ready but the doors leading to the state rooms were locked so we instinctively went to the pool deck were we knew from experience to congregate until the rooms were ready. A novice passenger would have no idea where to go as there was no directions given upon boarding. At bout 4:00pm the overhead announcement was heard advising that there was going to be a drill in 30 minutes, there was no announcement that the cabins were ready.
Upon entering our balcony stateroom we were pleased, the room was bright, sleek and modern looking. It wasn’t until we were all the way in that we noticed how narrow the cabin was, there was very little floor space and noticed we could both barely move about the cabin at the same time; it felt very cramped. The cabin was curved like an S I assume to give it a modern look but it made for a weird bend on the couch that made it very uncomfortable to sit and it added to the feeling of being tightly packed. Later that night we concluded that this stateroom was considerably smaller than any of the other balcony staterooms we had ever been in, it was about the same size as an inside cabin that we had stayed in at an earlier cruise with a smaller ship, on that occasion we paid $299 for it and thus expected to be small and cramped and therefore met our expectations. This definitely did not feel like a $1750.00 per person cabin, when we went to bed that night another discovery was abound when my 5’4’ wife laid in bed and found out that her feet dangled over the bed when she laid flat, mine dangled considerably more since I measure 5’10”; we had to curl up in fetus position to fit in the bed. The bathroom was a major problem for us, at first although it was a little different than what we were accustomed to, it looked innovative and we thought it would be a good idea that we could use the shower independent of the toilet. This fact then became embarrassingly painful later on when it was time to use the facilities and we realized that it is basically a very thin plastic see-through door and wall. The feeling was unmistakably uncomfortable even with your wife of more than 16 years. There are things that are just private, going to the bathroom is one of them, it is not glamorous, it is not pleasant but it is natural and as natural as it is it is also the most private act a human should be able to do and to feel that someone can not only tell what is going on, but also hear and forgive me for my bluntness but also smell was disgusting. The worst part was that when the Cabin’s door opens the first thing everyone sees is the toilet, we made every effort to make sure we were not in there whenever the other opened the door. As we walked through the hallways I cannot tell you how many times we walked by an open cabin and had to look away in order to avoid uncomfortable situations.
After the mandatory drill which is something we normally dread as it is usually chaotic, but I must admit was very well handled in an organized and expeditious way, we returned to the cabin to freshen up only to discover that the TV was not working. I tried to use the phone and call guest services but the phone touchscreen was also not working, I dialed 0 but it gave an error and would not dial. I checked the room for any type of directory or information on how to contact the guest services but there was nothing other than to use the phone’s touchscreen. I went down to the guest services desk where I waited in line for over 30 minutes because there were only Two service representatives actively attending to the guests, there were others but they were so engrossed in their computers that they rarely even looked up or acknowledge the growing line in front of them. I reported the problem and asked for an extension I could call in the future, I was told to dial 00. After dinner we returned to the cabin, the TV and phone still were not working, I called 00 and again reported the problem, they said someone would check it and call me back. We left our Cabin again and came back about an hour later, still no change in the state of the phone or TV. I dialed 00 again and this time the person who answered was able to fix the problem on the spot while I held with them on the phone for a few minutes. The phone took a while longer to get fixed but it was obvious that this was a minor problem that could be fixed remotely and easily yet it took me several hours and three attempts before I reached someone who knew how to fix the problem.
We decided to explore the ship’s amenities, this was not very difficult or time consuming as all of them were concentrated in the middle of the ship on floors 6 and 7 directly off the casino. It was definitely crowded; it was hard to get through the mass of bodies to get from the back to the front. Who in the right mind would put most of the public areas right smack in the middle of a ship that holds 6,000 guest and 1800 crew members? Next was the overwhelming cigarette smell; it was always present because as you must very well know most of the guests that frequent the casino are also heavy smokers. In other ships this had never been an issue as the Casino was situated separate from the other public areas and enclosed on its own. Again, why in the world would you put the casino right smack in the middle of everything? It was so bad that we noticed that there were portable air purifiers on the floor every couple of feet on each side of the halls; we tripped on them several times. This was appalling, how can you have a brand new state of the art ship with portable air filters on the floor, how more ghetto can you get? It was a clear sign that the ship had not been designed for the guests it was designed for the profits. In the next few days we began to dread having to go down to the restaurants or bars because we knew we would pass through the cloud as we came to refer to it, of smoke. Our clothes reeked of smoke within a few minutes and no matter where we ate with the exception of the Garden Café upstairs we could at least have the faint aroma of it.
As soon as the ship left port we began to feel the swaying of the waves, it was surprising to us that we were able to feel the strong waves as we did, We had been on smaller ships with rougher seas and not felt it so bad; It was very hard to walk about without holding on to the railings. For the first Two days the boat rocked and swayed uncontrollably and it was causing guest to get sick, we decide to stay in our cabin as much as possible to avoid getting sick ourselves. I would never think of blaming a cruise line or a ship for bad weather, it happens, we understand that and we rolled with it, however the following days the seas were calmer and the weather was clear and mild but to our dismay the ship continued to sway from side to side. When we inquired to the crew as to why the ship was swaying so hard, we were told that it was normal for a ship this size to sway a little. I am not an engineer by any means, but it was clear even to me why this ship swayed this way, it is by all accounts the tallest ship in the sea however it has a relatively narrow base for its height thus causing a pendulum effect when confronted with moderate wind speeds. We also discovered that the thrust engines on the sides of the vessel vibrate violently, we compared it to being on a plane undergoing turbulence. The worst part is that when the ship is docking it is these engines that do the bulk of the work and the vibration was so hard that our cabin rattled and shook feverishly. The noise was deafening as the flimsy shower and bathroom doors hit their respective frames; the first morning it was so startling and scary that we thought there was something wrong happening. We jumped out of bed half asleep and went out to our balcony to see what the whole ruckus was about. It was soon evident what it was and we were relieved when we realized that the ship was attempting to dock. The feeling of relief quickly turned to anger as we now realized that our $1750.00 per person stateroom was louder than a construction site downtown in the middle of rush hour. The docking process took 30 to 40 minutes and thus the shaking continued for that long. I have a recording of this, I knew it would be hard to believe by our friends and family and so I have had to play it numerous times. Since the ship docks very early in the morning we had to endure this on every port of call and consequently had our very own wakeup call complete with special effects.
On the second day of our vacation we had reservations for the Cirque dreams show, which was cancelled due to the weather. We were disappointed but understood why it had to be cancelled, what I do not understand is why when I tried calling the ticket desk to see if I could re-schedule no one answered. I stayed on the line for over 45 minutes being very patient and no one picked up. I decided to go to the box office personally to inquire only to be told that there were no more available shows. Like I said I do understand that unforeseen circumstances arise and it was prudent to cancel the show for safety reasons, however I cannot understand why it could not have been re-scheduled for another day. Certainly all of the evenings were already booked but how about adding a matinée performance or two, again we were met with disappointment it was becoming a pattern. Since we are now speaking of entertainment lets continue, our experiences before had always been that there was always a show or production available every evening, what we discovered was that there were about 4 shows available for free and they had to be reserved way ahead of time, but no longer were shows available if you wanted to see them again or if you missed the reservation. Was it not the concept of freestyle cruising to do whatever whenever you wanted? Now everything has to be reserved and scheduled and if for whatever reason you can’t make the reservation then you are out of luck. There are 4 free shows, the Blue Man Group which we saw on the first night, it was very loud and we were not particularly impressed with the show; basically it is Three guys painted in blue paint spitting paint at each other and the audience. The big highlight of the show was when from the back of the theater Toilet paper begins to roll down and the audience must push this paper to the front of the theater until at the end the entire theater is covered in toilet paper. This was to say the least not a very sophisticated production that I would have imagined was worthy of what was called a luxury liner. The only Theater on board was the Epic Theater which was all the way on the front of the ship, it was very small compared to the size of the rest of the ship and it probably only held 600 to 700 people, it was shabby and not very visually appealing, again not what I had imagined a brand new ship would offer. Other shows included a Legends in concert which were Three artist impersonating Rod Stewart, Britney Spears and Michael Jackson. The Michael Jackson impersonator was pretty good but the others especially Britney Spears were amateurish and not very good. There was also the Second City Comedy group that did improve comedy sketches; it was just OK, nothing special. There was also a Comic Magician, this show did not need reservations so anyone could come provided you got there early enough to get a seat. With such a small theater we realized that we probably needed to be there early to get a seat , however there was a performance by the Blue Man Group right before this scheduled performance and although the daily cruise newsletter instructed you to go to deck 6 the actual entrance to this show was on deck 5. Of course no one knew this including the crew members standing outside the door not letting anyone in. When the previous performance let out there was a large crowd waiting to get in and as you can imagine there was a big commotion. By the time we got in the theater it was completely full, apparently some people knew to go to the 5th floor and wait to enter the theater when the previous performance ended. We were not able to attend this show so we had to wait for the next day he was only performing Twice on a seven day cruise so if you miss them, too bad. The next day we aited in the 5th floor but again no one really knew where to go, finally I went to the Guest services and someone came over to guide everyone through a hidden corridor that led to the back of the theater where the performers enter and exit. We waited there for 45 minutes for the other show to end, it was very hot and very uncomfortable. By the time we entered the theater everyone around us including us were very aggravated, I really can’t tell you if the show was any good because I was in such a bad mood that it would not have mattered how good the show was the whole experience had left a bad taste in my mouth, my conclusion was that this theater was not designed for the guests comfort. Aside from that there was the Circus dinner show which we did not see but that will cost you an additional $25 per person and the Murder Mystery Lunch which is performed by the Second City Comedy Group, it is just another improve performance that will also cost you $20 per person. There were a few performers playing the piano or the guitar from time to time at different bars or restaurants but again none that I would consider great performers.
The other thing that became painfully obvious was that if you wanted to take advantages of the amenities they will cost you extra. If you wanted to bowl, there was a fee, if you wanted the circus show there was a fee, if you wanted to go to the Ice bar there was a fee. This was such a big hype during previous cruises; this would be the only Ice bar at sea and pictures of a very cool and sophisticated place had been shown and frankly it was something we were dying to see. Well it cost us $20 each to don a furry poncho and walk into a walk-in freezer with a bar on the side. It was not lined with large Ice blocks and ice sculptures as we were led to believe. It was lined with acrylic blocks and acrylic statues made to look like Ice but far from it. This was just another way to get you to spend money and a photographer was there the entire time taking pictures by the statues of everyone in the bar. In other words we paid to get our picture taken and then we would have to pay more if we wanted the picture. Even the specialty restaurants which we were used to paying a little extra for better quality food had an extra fee if you wanted the lobster or the filet mignon. One night we were charged for a hot chocolate, I never felt so nickelled and dimed in my life. Worse yet I never felt so robbed in my life!
One of our favorite things of course is the food, who doesn’t gain a few pounds after sampling so many delectable options as you have on a cruise? Normally I would rave, but the truth is that although the food was fine when we went to the specialty restaurants we would often encounter the same appetizer or dessert choices as the regular restaurants. On one occasion I specifically asked for a fried Calamari appetizer at La Cuccina, it was the exact same one I had had the night before at Taste; in fact it was the same chewy and rubbery consistency as the one I had sent back the night before. How can they consciously charge extra for something that is included free to begin with? There were plenty of restaurant choices however most of them were specialty and needed to be reserved well in advance and like I mention earlier the truly specialty dishes will cost more on top of the cover charge. And also at Cagney's Steak House we were told we could only have two sides, pardon me but hasn’t it always been that you could eat whatever you wanted even at the specialty restaurants. The Free restaurants were OK, Taste, Manhattan Club, The Garden Café on the pool deck level and an Irish pub style restaurant on level 6. This one was always very crowded and reeked of smoke.
Like I mentioned earlier, most public areas were directly off the Casino on levels 6 and 7, there were several bars but they never felt separate it felt like just one large contiguous space so it was very difficult to feel like you were is a different environment. If music was playing in one of the bars it could be heard from the others and if it was a live performer it was obviously louder but you still heard the ambient music from another location. The main Atrium had a very large Projector screen TV where sports or movies would play from time to time, except they could not be heard over the massive loudness of the people traffic, music from all the bars or the overhead speakers. We tried to watch a movie once because we were so bored but could not hear a single syllable. The entertainment in the room was not better, there were only 5 available channels, 3 were news channels, 1 was the e! network and 1 is a continuous loop of all TV shows. Not to mention that the satellite feed was down most of the time so it was hit or miss.
The Pool area was something else; aside from the water slides which I am sure a big hit with the Children there are only three main pools and 6 hot tubs not including the private Villas which are private. Remember there are over 6000 guests, these pools look and feel miniscule. One of the pools is located on the back of the ship along with 2 hot tubs and a Gigantic TV Screen. This are is called the H20 Spice club and it is advertised as an adult’s only section. Since my wife and I are childless we assumed this would be a good place to hang out and take some sun or read; however as we found out adults only is merely a suggestion. When we tried to lay on a deck chair we saw and heard a large number of kids running around. When I asked the bartender, who quickly came to see if I wanted a drink, why there were so many children in this are he gave me a vague response and walked off. The wait staff for the most part was polite and friendly unless for the bar staff and waiters. We had purchased the unlimited soda package as we have done on all of our other trips because we are not big alcohol drinkers; but every time we asked for a soda and shown our card we were met with a frown and at times hostile attitude. Of course they would not be getting the extra tip they would normally get from a premium drink so they were not shy about showing their disappointment. We would end up waiting 20 or 30 minutes for our drinks because they would make it a point not to go to the bar and get our order until they had another order for a premium drink. The service at from the Cabin Stuarts was not much better, our room was not made up until very late in the morning, one day it was 2:00pm and it was still not made up. Turn down hardly ever happened; it was done twice in our entire stay.
Since we had already been to these ports we did not book any excursions thinking that there would be enough activities during the day to keep us busy; that was not the case. During the days at port the ship was basically a ghost town, there was nothing at all to do. The first Two ports we stayed onboard but by the third port at Roatan we were stir crazy and needed to get off even if to just be on firm ground. When we returned later in the day we sat in the atrium on the 5th floor to rest and suddenly the lights went out, we were suddenly sitting in pitch black conditions. We stayed put where we were and the lights came back up within a few minutes but by then there were a great deal of confusion going on as to what happened. There was no explanation offered by any of the crew members nearby or the overhead speaker, it was as this had not happened or it was such a common occurrence that they were not fazed by it; they continued with what they were doing prior to the power outage. After about fifteen minutes the captain came on the overhead speaker to let us know that the elevators were non-operational and they were working on it. The elevators were down for about one hour and a half, it was very difficult to get around. After the elevators were restored there was still not an explanation for what happened, this made the rest of the trip a little uneasy as the question certainly remained as to what would happen if this occurred while at sea?
Given the way the week had gone we were cautiously optimistic about new year’s eve, it was one of the main reasons we had booked this trip to be at sea at a great party for New Year’s, we were told there would be several parties going on during the night. On New Year’s Eve we found out there were Two, one on the Pool at H20 Spice and the other at the atrium. The festivities began at 10:00pm and at that time we went upstairs only to discover that a rock band was setting up to play, we remained optimistic that the music would be enjoyable. The longer we were there the more young adolescent and teenage kids we say gathering and by the time the band began to play it was obvious that this party was not geared to adults so we decided to go to the party being held at the atrium. When we arrived it was actually the other way around the band was playing a very nice selection of old classic standards and the crowd was considerably older. It seemed that the cruise director decided to cater to only two age groups and since we did not fit either we decided to spend the new year in our cabin. I never felt worse than that very moment, I felt robbed not just monetarily but I felt I was robbed emotionally. Instead of enjoying a great vacation I was dreading it, instead of relaxing I was aggravated and that was when I decided I had to write a review and let everyone know what a poor designed ship this is. I only wish someone would have warned me. This is not a ship designed to make guests feel comfortable and happy and relaxed, it was designed to bilk as much money as possible from their captive audience, it was designed as a pretty art project with it’s over decorated restaurants and lounges but not for how people would feel or get about or enjoy it. If I was running this company I would seriously consider whether this ship held true to the fundamental concept of free style cruising and therefore belong on this fleet. If it was up to me, I would sell this ship to a budget cruise line, it would suit that style; it belongs with that trashy, tacky and ghetto clientele I would have never thought it belonged to NCL.
I don’t think I will be cruising NCL again, certainly no time soon but definitely never on this ship again.