My husband and I took this cruise in June of 2011. Prior to our cruising date we stayed in Barcelona for 2 nights. There are alot of mixed reviews about Barcelona and prior to this trip I was a little aprhensive about being there for two nights. In our case, we didn't have a choice because we only had one flight out a day so to give us peace of mind, incase a flight was cancelled, we wanted to give ourselves extra time to reach Barcelona to make the ship.
With that being said, Barcelona has some remarkable landmarks that you don't want to miss. I was not crazy about the Las Ramblas strip and that is the area where you will read about horror stories and pick pockets. Now, the reasons it did not appeal to me may not be reasons you may not like it. For me, its just too touristy in a way that you are asking for trouble. We live in NYC and to us Las Ramblas was like Times Square, we just don't go near it. Just alot of people shuffled into one area with alot of things going on around you. The strip itself it interesting, there are areas to sit and eat, lots of vendors selling you things, very annoying men with these noise makers in their mouths, trying to sell them, cages with lots of birds, and of course the statue people.
All I can say is that from what I read the strip was not as 'bad' as I thought but it was just not for me. My advice to anyone that is heading that way- just mind your surroundings. Ladies,do not bring purses without zippers and always wear them in the front of you or cross body. I do not advise backpacks and if you sit to eat just be smart and do not leave your things behind you or out in the open on the tables. I did hear of someone being pick pocketed but the lady from what I understood had on a purse that did not contain zippers. Make no mistake the pick pockets are out there but they are not going to go for someone that is aware. They are going to go for the people with the open bags, and men wearing wallets in their back pockets--a BIG NO-NO, guys. Be smart. Don't put all your money in one place. The inside the pants money belts are good. I wore the leg money belt and that was just for things I did not plan on reaching for but things I wanted to keep on my body and not in the room like my passport and credit cards. I had some money on me and my husband had some and we were fine. I used a safety pin to hook the zipper of my purse to the bag itself so in the event someone got me they really couldn't get far.
As for the restaurants that line the streets on either side of the strip beware. Most false advertise and tell you that you can get 'all you can eat tapas' for a low price. (Tapas is like appetizer food) Then when you get in there they hand you menus that have dishes for a lot more then you would really pay anywhere. For example one dish was for 2 people and exceeded $80 US dollars. Seriously??? I wouldn't pay that back home for 2 and I'm not paying it there. For that price I would expect to be in a fine restaurant not a walk in place that seats 10.
Now for the good parts- the sites to see. I think the hop on/ hop off buses are the best invention ever! They are ALL over Barcelona and we purchased the two day pass. We were hopping fools. We saw everything execpt for one thing-Montserrat. Definitely get your passes online or from your hotel when you arrive. It really is the best way to see everything. And there are only tourists on the buses so you don't have to worry about much. BUT just keep in mind that some locations they stop at are prime locations and catching a bus from that area may take forever. My advice, have a map handy (some of the packages for the tickets you buy at your hotel or in the street will have them). Just look for the next bus stop or one after that and walk to that location. It may be easier- not 100% wait free but better. Just food for thought.
Our hotel was Hesperia Ramblas and it was an excellent hotel but going forward if I ever went back I would pay the extra money and stay away from that entire area. But again, that is just me.
As for the EPIC, well I don't have much bad press for that. I enjoyed the ship a great deal. I've never sailed on a ship of that size before so I wasn't sure what to expect. In the past I've sailed on Pride of America and the Star. This ship was huge and there was sooo much to see.
The pool decks are amazing. I was up early on sea days and had no problem finding a lounge chair. I liked that in the back of the ship, the Spice H20 area, was adults only and no children were allowed. I am not a fan of splashing children shouting 'look at me look at me' as they belly flop and splash in the pool while their parents pretend they can't see their evil ways. But its a vacation and everyone should have a good time so I don't begrudge them I was just happy there were designated area's where everyone can have a good time. The slides were amazing. Lots of fun and I say 'go for it'! At least try the purple one!!
The casino is HUGE... Takes up the entire deck and I always saw available slots so if thats your thing you should be able to find a machine with ease. The clubs and comedy clubs were very good too. The Spice H20 is also an outdoor club so if you plan to attend an event there be prepared for wind. Its very windy- or it can be because it was for our trip. We didn't last long out there but it was fun.
I enjoyed the buffet there were far more ethnic foods on this cruise then on previous ones but it was all delicious! I found whatever I chose to eat was flavorful and right at what I would expect it to be. That goes for room service and for all the speciality restaurants. Please if you eat meat you have to try Moderno's. Its delicious and the salad bar is fantastic. There is food for every palette on this cruise so enjoy!
The rooms were a bit different. We had the large balcony which is good. But if you book a standard balcony be advised we can see you! Our balcony came out over the rest and we had a great view of everyone. You can't even say we were looking its just impossible not to see something. So remember the larger balcony's come over. But they are great as well and we were able to get lounge chairs for our balcony because the large balcony can accomodate 2 chairs and 2 lounges. Just call your steward upon arrival and request them. As for the room itself I wasn't overly impressed. I wondered why on earth there were sooo many storage areas. I mean there were storage areas and cubby holes in places you wouldn't know existed... The couch cushions are storage, below the couch, the tops of the couches. So many places and I used them all why?? Well because I could! I just kept forgetting where I put everything and searching for stuff took me forever! :)
I was not a fan of the infamous bathroom area. Luckily I shared a room with my husband and not friends because I can see where it can get a little 'odd'. For those that aren't aware- There is no closed bathroom. Your shower and toilet are smack in the front of the room. Nothing but frosted glass and a curtain to hide your kibbles and bits. Other than those little facts the room was fine. Comfy bed, ample storage, nothing that you can't work around. Not many channels to choose from and no 'movie channels' but I was fine with alternating between the two channels I found that suited me.
Now onto the ports.... Florence-- Excellent... We did an explore on your own excursion which NCL provided. They drop you off and pick you up. Florence is easy to get around by foot and you can see most of it if you have the time. We missed Pisa but that was our choice. Remember to get tickets to anything you may want to see in advance if you don't do a tour or excursion that provides entry to certain places. Florence is a nice little area and I wouldn't worry about seedy people lurking around. I mean, you have your occasional gypsy but you see them coming. Still be aware of your surroundings but enjoy the sites with ease. Remember, do not buy from vendors that lay their items on tarps on the floor or items on the floor in the middle of the streets. You can get fined for that because they are selling fakes, etc. and the police are trying to boot them out so they fine people for buying from them. Stick to the tent area vendors and eat, eat, eat.... Pizza, gelato- try it all-- you're on vacation!!
The next port after Florence was Rome and we did the Vatican and Basilica tour from NCL. Loved it- even though I was on my feet for about 10hrs running around. But I saw things I cannot even describe. We didn't get to go inside the Colosseum but we did get to walk around a bit and take pictures. Lots going on in that area so mind your belongings. But its definitely something to see.
Naples was great as well. We went to Sorrento and saw the Almafi Coastline before heading to Pompeii- A must see at some point in your European travels. We had a walking tour (provided by NCL) and found it very knowledgable. I would think twice about bringing small children and infants to Pompeii. Its very open and can be very hot. Once youre in there aren't vendors or places to eat until you head back out. The ground is uneven and strollers will not be easy as some of the streets are quite narrow.
If you do venture to Sorrento (which I think you should if you like relaxing towns and pizza) make sure you eat and enjoy the shops. Get some Limoncello as well! Sorrento is in 'Naples' but its a place you can walk around with ease and just enjoy the area.
** Please keep in mind, we have family from Naples and they can tell you some of Naples is very bad. There is some crime and if you choose not to do a cruise tour please mind your surroundings. Don't wear fancy jewelry and definitely keep your belongings well concealed. Some areas are a definite 'do not go through' so please research where you plan to go before you leave the ship'. Some of Naples is so beautiful but like all places there are areas to beware of so don't think you can just walk around like in Florence.**
Our last port was Palma and we didn't even get off the ship. There are some nice points of interest but nothing that we needed to see. By that point we were wiped out and just wanted to relax by the pool and enjoy the ship.
Entertainment is very good on the ship. Book your shows in advance because standby was packed. Blue Man was great and was a little different then the show I saw in NY but not 100% different. The Cirque Dreams dinner and show was very good as well. If you sit on the floor it will be very interactive. We sat up above and had no problems viewing anything. They space the performers out so if there is someone 'under' you that you can't see odds are someone across from them, in your line of sight, is doing the same exact thing. They do that so everyone sees everything. I believe, but I'm 100% sure, that the way you sit on the floor area tables is based on the seating you select. Example, lets say premium is the best seating I think those would be floor. You can look into that but I don't believe pricing is much different between the two.
I think thats about all I can come up with- for now. I mean, there was just so much to see and to do that to pool it all into one satisfying review is hard but I hoped this helped out a little bit.