We decided to take the fly cruise option as we couldn't match the transatlantic flight prices and it included transfers from local airport,hotel night before cruise and transfer to port.We weren't expecting much from the airport hotel but the Sofitel was in fact very nice.NCL reps were on hand for any questions,the only drawback was that breakfast wasn't included.
transfer to the port next day was simple and embarkation was fast.There are 2 possible entrances onto the ship-one via the casino and the other via a small atrium at the back[aft]
The ship is indeed huge but strangely because of the number of decks which have few atrium areas you don't get an impression of space.In fact because there are few common areas where you can sit back and people watch it was very hard to "accidentally" meet up with other cruisers we met at the meet and greet.
Once on board we headed straight for O' Sheehans for lunch having been warned about the scrum at the garden cafe on embarkation day.That gave us the chance to read the freestyle daily and peruse the deck plans over fish and chips and a beer.
First stop was to guest services to purchase a POSH pass-this is the private sun deck area on deck 18 with padded loungers which sells passes on first come first served basis-a bargain at $59 for the week.Apart from sailaway it was never crowded and was a really pleasant place to while away the time with a book.There were areas with shade if required and waiters would bring you complimentary ice water,fruit and iced towels.
I also took a tour of the spa and purchased a couples pass for $189 having been sold on the open balcony over the back of the ship with padded loungers.However whenever I visited the place was pretty crowded and rarely got the chance to experience that area.
Rooms were ready at 2 and we went to explore.I had booked a deck 8 balcony and was concerned I may have made a mistake having heard about uncovered balconies and lifeboats blocking views or reflecting heat.
However our cabin 8190 had a covered balcony and was just after the last lifeboat so we had a view down to the sea below.
Most balconies are covered-about a third on deck 8 near the middle were uncovered and we noticed that deck 9 immediately above us were also uncovered.
The only issue with the bathroom arrangement was that the sink was too small to be able to rinse out clothes-we did take advantage of the $25 laundry special.
most evenings we ended up in Maltings bar listening to Kurt Hunter the guitarist or at least trying to!
Come on NCL give the guy a break-this is a talented musician who counts among his fans the guys from Howl at the Moon and you give him one of the noisiest spots to perform!
As I mentioned before there are only a few atrium areas but one of them is directly behind his spot from which drifts up the annoying chime of the slot machines from the huge casino below.The casino is big enough that the bank of slot machines in that area could be removed!
We saw Howl at the moon and enjoyed but found their constant requests for tips annoying-you're on a cash free cruise-why should you be carrying dollar bills around?
I was looking forward to Blue Man Group but was disappointed.They are very talented musicians but found the "comedy" puerile-spitting popcorn and regurgitating marshmallows!!!!?
We don't like ship excursions and arranged our own-reviewed in next session
Disembarkation was easy.If you wanted to carry your own bags off you got to walk off first.Otherwise they gave you a disembarkation time based on your deck or if you had flight transfers-makes sense as otherwise those elevators would have been overwhelmed
overall I enjoyed the cruise and am glad I experienced the Epic but do admit to a preference for a smaller ship with a more open aspect