On December 18, 2010, ten of us—all family members celebrating a few birthdays—cruised to the Caribbean on the Norwegian Epic.
Having done numerous cruises to date (both as employee and passenger), initially my concern was that the ship would be too big, but the call of the humongous water slides was—for the kids—just too much for us to ignore. Eventually, I began to think, "So what if the ship is too big? We're traveling with family; losing them every once in a while couldn't be a bad thing. Right?"
Well let me fill you in before you make a decision to book a cruise on the Norwegian Epic. This particular ship is not for everyone—at least not if you enjoy your privacy. So you're thinking, "Privacy? On a ship the size of Europe?" And my response? I like to have a private bathroom in my cabin, at the very least!
Step Into My Loo
So what did we find? Open the cabin door and on the right is the toilet hidden behind a frosted, acrylic sliding door. On the left, is the shower, hidden behind a frosted, acrylic sliding door. A little further up in the cabin is the sink and medicine cabinet. The only privacy you get is when you pull a curtain from one side of the cabin to the other; now you've built your bathroom. Sure, there is elbow room, but now the room steward can join you!!!
This actually happened. Having forgotten to put the DO NOT DISTURB sign on the cabin door, there I was on the loo, with only a frosted door to shield me when the room steward who is just doing his job, minding his own business, comes into the cabin not realizing that I was minding my own at the same time!!!
On other NCL ships, you actually get a shower, toilet, sink all in one private space with a real bathroom door. Gee, what a concept! Who would have thought that some rocket scientist was going to take that away?
The sink, by the way, was on the opposite side of the curtain. So you're actually brushing and flossing your teeth amongst your roommates, who may or may not be trying to sleep. And for some reason, there was no curtain dividing the bunk bed area from the master bed, so if you're traveling with kids, again, no privacy.
By the way, this is not just my issue. We spoke with a couple who were in their sixties. They booked the Epic for two weeks and their complaints were very much like ours. They couldn't invite friends to their cabin to play cards because the bathroom was too public. You think some genius engineer should have thought this through a little. Right? Or maybe they did and this is their evil way of forcing you and your wallet to endlessly roam the ship's decks in search of privacy.
Casino, Deck 6 or Should I Say: Casino Deck, 6
You'd better love gambling because, as you'll see if choose the Epic, your first image of the ship is of the casino to which you are marched through before you even get a glimpse of your looless cabin. It spans most of Deck 6. Talk about in your face! And as you can imagine, when it's packed with glazed over gamblers, it's smoky. And the open staircases allow the smoke to travel throughout. Don't worry, though. I don't think there's much chance of getting second hand smoke cancer if you've only booked a week, but, hey, non-smokers hate the smell of cigarette smoke. Sorry.
There are none on this ship; well, if there are, they're hard to find. Though the ship looks massive from the outside, magically it feels incredibly small on the inside. What did they do to all the space? They stuffed it with a bazillion cabins and did this:
They took away that cozy feeling by putting restaurants and bars out in the open, amongst major walkways. If you eat at O'Sheehan's, for example, you get to listen to the bowling pins crash and kids yelling.
They took away the movie theater. They show movies in the Atrium opposite the Information and Tour Desk; noisy and really bad if you suffer from Attention Deficit.
They forgot to build a library, hard to believe because generally passengers love the library.
They neglected to add a board game/card room. Cruising is a great way for families to finally bond; this room is usually hopping.
And if you think, as we did, that if you book at the Mandara Spa you'll have a week of peace, quiet, and relaxation in the hot tubs and saunas, away from the hoards, think again. The place was mobbed. Don't bother paying the extra $100 per person.
Hurry Up and Wait On Line
If you haven't booked before boarding, get ready to wait on line to get a seat for any of the shows. We hadn't booked anything and were told on the first day that every show the entire week was sold out! We went standby for Blue Man Group and were able to eventually see it but heck, who needs the stress on vacation? It's actually a fun show to see and great for kids. Try to book the Murder Mystery Lunch hosted by Second City; this was a lot of fun and kid friendly, too. The Dueling Piano dudes were also awesome.
Generally speaking, tours also fill up fast, but we really like to take our time on vacation and think things through before booking tours. A lot of the time, you can just get off the boat and talk to the locals. But I did take the Discover St. Thomas and Megan's Bay Beach tour and that was fun, while my hubby and kids went on the parasailing tour, which they also enjoyed.
You may not want to take this from someone who is happy to eat Cocoa Krispies for dinner, but the food was pretty good. The only beef we had was that you only have two and a half "free" restaurant options if you don't like Sushi: For that unique dining experience: Taste and the Manhattan Room (both with the same menu). For buffet style additional "chargeless" dining, you can eat in the Garden Cafe.
In my opinion, all this "extra charging" makes you feel like you're being squeezed for every penny at every turn; psychologically it just doesn't work. Freestyle Cruising means what? You're free to eat at any time at the price of your cruise (the one menu option)? Or you're free to eat at any time at an additional charge (the several menus option)? Is there really a choice here? Not even a cranberry juice goes unbilled! If I'm paying $5000 for a cruise, do you really have to charge me for a glass of fruit juice?
Lights, Cameras, Action...or Not
They have a new photo system, which is really efficient. You no longer have to waste endless, precious vacation moments, head pounding, blindly wading through thousands of random photos just to find that one photo in which you appear to be drunk, both eyes closed, straddling Mr. Pirate while everyone else in the photo looks spectacular.
They now ask for your room key, and photos are electronically tied to your room number. Simply swipe your room key into their ATM-like machines and view your photos. You can select them and have them billed to your cabin.
But be aware: If you're traveling with a group, try to put all photos on one room key. It becomes painful at the end of the trip when you need to find the photos you want but have forgotten that great granny used her room key for those photos!
Additionally, my suggestion to NCL would be to create a way to post-order photos online from home. We had loads of photos that we wanted to order and ran out of time. Now it's too late. Memories and revenue gone—bad for both parties.
On the Bright Side
And there was a bright side: The onboard shops are very nice and The Market Place is a fun idea, a way to enjoy TJ Maxx-like shopping outdoors. And we enjoyed all three ports of call: St. Maartin, St. Thomas, and Nassau. There were no problems getting on and off the boat. Everything ran as smooth as clockwork despite the enormous possibility of complete chaos.
In the end, there is nothing like a cruise. Despite the issues, we still love cruising and will continue to look for the perfect ship.