Embarkation at Barcelona was the quickest ever, after a fun night in the city staying at the super Grand Marina Hotel, we arrived at the port at 11:15, no lines at security, our Deluxe Owners suite check-in line was empty, five minutes in the concierge lounge which gave us the opportunity to catch up with Monica Fotashe the Concierge we had sailed with before, then into our suite by 11:40.
That's when the joy of sailing with NCL kicks in big time for us, as we arrive in our suite a big scream and warm welcome from Judy Juaneza our Snr Housekeeper and a lady who had looked after us before on three different cruises. This is when it starts feeling like we've come home, of course the ship is terrific but it's the crew that breathes life into all the steel and glass, and being amazed by how many people remember us is a real joy.
We last stayed in 16002 which is a front facing suite with an enclosed solarium, ideal for our previous Trans Atlantic crossing, this time in 17004 which is a front facing suite with an open very large side balcony. This suite was still being completed when we were last aboard and we had only a quick glimpse of it in New York. Our impression is magnificent, the bedroom and bathroom are front facing, the lounge to the side, it is our belief that currently this is the best NCL suite afloat for two people who want to chill, be together and sometimes entertain, (and that includes our times in the Garden Villas of the jewel class ships).
The large Courtyard has plenty of sun beds and seats to relax in, although they still haven't totally fixed the wind problem when the ship is underway particularly when sailing into a headwind. The Epic Club and Lounge are luxurious with muted colours, classy dEcor and a genuine sense of tranquillity. However this is the downside of the much larger Courtyard complex, the jewel class Courtyards are much smaller and thus tend to be quieter, if, as we experienced, a very large family with lots of children books a number of Courtyard Villas then the environment changes dramatically.
Everybody is entitled to a vacation but we should always be mindful of our actions upon other people, this is usually a problem when the parents of children allow them to run riot with no consideration for others. Luckily for us we always ate early for breakfast and dinner so avoided the family, but we were aware of the significant disruption caused leading to a number of guests moving tables or even leaving the restaurant.
The service and food in the Epic Club was first class with the dinner set menu enhanced by specials from around the ship, but in truth the staff will just about get you anything you want.
The front facing private sundeck on deck 18 was empty most of the time, indeed the rear facing Posh beach club bar was also quiet but is an ideal location to sit, drink, sunbath and relax even cooling down under the cool mist sprayers which always catch people by surprise the first time. All in all the suites and villas complex of the Epic is the perfect resort within a resort, places to relax, eat, enjoy, exercise (why?) have spa treatments and get cosseted by your butler (big shout to ours Akhmad Mosleh), Monica and her assistant Elvina De Meneses were based in the reception area, and also the rest of the staff who really know how to look after you.
We noticed around the ship how everything had settled and smoothed down since the first cruise, obviously the staff are more comfortable with the new ship and most things seem to flow very well. Some of the entertainment has changed, our favourite in the Spiegel Tent, Cirque Dreams and Dinner has a number of new cast members, and the show is more action and less interaction which makes for a much better experience, we saw the show twice and would see it again, we think it's the very best dining show experience. The new Legends are very good, the highlight for us was "Elton John" played by Stephen Sorrentino who also does his regular gig in Headliners, this is a venue totally unsuited to this great act. He should be in the Epic Theatre during the day on the two sea days, his act is terrific but some Europeans may not recognise all the characters he does (and we are Europeans).
Big tick as usual to Blue Man, and the Beatles tribute band, we did think that generally around the ship entertainment was excellent with a good choice and variety. We can't comment on any of the Nickelodeon stuff, I wanted to be slimed but Pamela was against it! Although finally I succeeded in getting her to go down one of the water shoots which she thoroughly enjoyed, and survived.
We met up with the Hotel Director Denis Prguda who was always available (on 8888) and very accommodating, we choose not to go to the VIP cocktail party so didn't meet up with Captain Frank Juliussen, whom we hadn't sailed with before.
When not in our suite, sundeck, show, restaurant, ice bar, shop or Courtyard we spend a great deal of time in the casino because for us this is a great place for fun and entertainment, we always say if you don't go with a plan to make a fortune you won't come away disappointed. We knew probably over 60% of the casino staff and were able to catch up with news from old friends. The casino has a great layout and ample table games and slots, the hosts do a terrific job and newbies can get all the help they need from the super friendly dealers.
So we boarded in Barcelona and eleven days later we stepped onto dry land again in Barcelona having not left the ship once. The Mediterranean itinerary for the Epic is excellent but we have been to all the ports many times and for us this cruise was about enjoying the Epic. The ship is genuinely a floating resort with way too much to do and see in seven days, which is why the Caribbean East and West back to back for fourteen days is the way to do this ship and NCL should consider a Med east and west for this ship.
If you have the resources the Epic is fantastic in the Courtyard area, within this enclosed environment you have real five/six star facilities and service which exceeds most of the supposed six star ships afloat, but the big advantage of vacationing in this deluxe environment is that when you want to you can go play in the big resort which is filled with just about anything you could want.
So that's our take on the Epic, a fantastic ship that's grown up, but what makes this ship, and indeed all NCL ships so special are the crew, how does a Butler remember she last looked after us ten years ago, and even what she served us one night for dinner in Cozumel? They are truly amazing and always make our cruise so special.
Leaving the ship was sad but simple, we left at 9:30, Monica took us all the way out to the car she had arranged for us to take us back to our hotel for three more days in Barcelona, we watched the Epic sail out that night, lucky people!
Check out http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DLkUfeGswOs