We are a married couple aged 51 and 56. We are British, live in the West Midlands area and have cruised 5 previous times always with Norwegian Cruise Line. We sail NCL because of Freestyle. We don't like having to carry fancy clothes around the world, we do like the freedom to eat when we want, where we want and with whom we want. We only started cruising 3 years ago because of these points and it was 3 years ago that we discovered NCL and the Freestyle way of doing things. This was our first cruise in the Meditteranean having previously cruised Alaska, Caribbean and Baltic States on 4 different ships. We have sailed on Pearl, Star,Sun and Jade and prefer Jewel class but have never had a bad cruise on any of them to date. Cruises are what you make of them and NCL helps us make a cruise that we enjoy.
I was a little unsure of booking a cruise on NCL Epic as it carries a huge amount of passengers and I was concerned it would feel crowded and also because I wasn't sure about the cabin design. We have always travelled in Balcony cabins and this cruise was no exception. We also like to book a stern balcony if possible and we were able to secure one for this cruise. We went to this cruise with an open mind and were interested to see whether we would love or loathe this ship.
Travel To Port of Embarkation
I booked all the elements of our trip seperately. The cruise was booked through a UK travel agent, I booked flights using airmiles and also our hotel accomodation using airmiles which means I got them free of charge. Our flights were with British Airways from London Heathrow. Our outbound flight to Barcelona the day before embarkation was delayed 1 hour and 20 minutes but only after we had boarded the aircraft. This was due to it raining, given that it rains on many days of the year in the UK I am still amazed that this happened and that Heathrow ever functions as an airport.
Once we arrived in Barcelona we quickly passed through Passport Control and waited a couple of minutes for our baggage to arrive. The airport was well signposted and we headed to the taxi line. This was operated very efficiently and we were soon in a taxi going to our hotel, HCC Mont Blanc. Checked in and found a nice room then had a drink and a meal in the hotel as we were tired and it was now 11PM. We retired for the night and were looking forward to the next morning.
After breakfast we checked out at about 10.30AM and hailed a cab out on the road outside. This took about 15 seconds as the cabs were plentiful. Our driver asked where we were going and I said to the Port. She asked if we wanted Celebrity or the Epico. I laughed and asked to go to the Epico and she said Epico was mucho grande ship! The road along the seafront at the bottom of Las Ramblas was very congested due to a fun run taking place but we got through it and soon got our first real sight of the ship. Epico definitely looked Mucho Grande.
At the port we paid the cab and handed our bags over at a tent set up for the purpose. We had already tagged them but they were making up tags for those who hadn't. Time taken here was maybe 2 minutes. We walked a few yards to the check in area, showed our documents and joined the line for latitudes.We were immediately called to a desk to begin our check-in. In my hand I had our ticket, passports and a credit card and the agent was very impressed by this. Well, I have cruised before and know exactly what they need so after a quick grin at the camera we had our keycards and were heading to the ship. We stopped to look at a few shops and I chatted with the restaurant reservations desk for a few minutes while I changed a reservation we had made. If I hadn't done all of this we could have been on the ship in less than 15 minutes. Entrance to the ship was in the Casino area and we took an elevator to Deck 15 and went outside to get a drink and place to sit for a while. It was only about 11.30AM and we were not hungry so did not go to the buffet or any other place serving food.
The pool area already had a few people around and some kids were already in the water. They looked so happy and excited. We sat and watched them for a while. We were quickly seen by a waiter and within a couple of minutes we had a cold beer in our hand. This is the life, people watching on a ship with a beer. It doesn't get better than this, it is what we strive for each year. While we were people watching I saw a waiter go past and was waiting for him to come back so I could get a better look at him. Eventually he returned and I rushed straight to the Bar to say Hello. It was June Olmo who had looked after us so well on the Sun last summer. We were all pleased to see each other again and I can say that once again we were looked after very well whenever we were in Junes area. We made friends with a couple from Dublin Eire who were on their first cruise and had brought their twin grandson's along. Grabbed a bite from the Great Outdoors area and drank a Bucket of Beer. At some point they said the rooms were ready but we stayed to finish the drinks before going downstairs. We made it to cabin 13291 about 3PM and we already had luggage waiting for us.
My first impression of the room was good. Compared with other rooms we found it to be a little longer but it seemed more narrow. The space at the bottom of the bed between it and the counter was narrow and this caused us a few problems during the week but nothing insurmountable it just needed patience. Our bed was near the entrance door and bathroom area and the couch was next to the balcony. The couch was not comfortable so ended up as a dumping place for all kinds of stuff as the week wore on. The bathroom caused us no issues but we did find the toilet to be very loud. I decided to go out onto the balcony to take a look and this was a very funny moment. As I tried to open the sliding door the handle came off in my hand. OMG I broke the ship I cried. Tony was like 'What have you done!' No big drama, I fixed it back on and inserted a grub screw from my spectacle repair kit to keep it fixed on. The balcony was a good size. It seemed larger than side balconies we have had in the past but not as large as the stern balconies we have had on the Pearl. There were two chairs and a small table. I enjoyed spending time out there first thing in a morning and when we were sailing away from port.
Our cabin was a connecting cabin and I think from some pictures I have seen that this may have lost us some closet space. We had one closet but I have seen pictures of a second closet with some drawers below the closet. It would have been nice to have that but we found plenty of space for our things and managed to hang what we needed to. The medicine cabinet above the sink was a great place to put our toiletries and stuff like that. We also had a little coffee maker which was useful and the fridge had a little room for keeping milk etc in it. The lighting was good when we had it figured out but the bed was a little short for Tony. He didn't mind as he likes his feet uncovered at night (I don't get this either) and always has them hanging out of the bed at home too.
Our steward, Dennis, came around to say hello. He already knew our names and made a great first impression upon us. Over the week he was a very happy and amenable chap and did his job very well indeed. He was always around in the morning and evening and amended his schedule to service the room around our movements. On Tony's Birthday we came back from shore to be greeted by Dennis singing 'Happy Birthday' which became a choir when two other stewards in the area joined in. All of the stewards were nice and greeted us every day as we passed and asked how we were, what we had done that day and we felt loved by them and knew that any one of them would help if ever Dennis couldn't be seen and we needed something.
It was time for 'Safety Drill' so off we went to Cagneys restaurant which was handy as we had booked Moderno which shares the space for dinner that evening and it served as a dry run of getting there. Once that was over we explored the ship from Deck 7 down to Deck 5. We had been given a ship map when we embarked and I also had an app on my Android phone to guide us around. Eventually we were back on Deck 15 near the pool bar where there are a few tables and chairs for smokers. Over the week this was my spot. We made some new friends there and my favourite server June always knew where to find us!
The additional width of the Epic makes the internal public areas seem very spacious. There are plenty of bars and seating spots on each deck and we made use of these most evenings. I never really found any bottlenecks all though I am sure there must be some. Foot traffic always seemed to flow very well and in the evenings the entertainers in the bar areas added a nice ambience. Never once did I ever feel this ship was crowded, even at the pool on the sea days. There are so many places to go to and be that the passenger load is very well distributed throughout the ship. A lot of the time I was amazed at how quiet some areas seemed to be considering there were said to be almost 5000 on board.
The ship seemed very clean and to be in excellent condition throughout but I would expect that from a ship that was exactly one year old. I enjoyed the interior decor, it was not garish and in your face. More calming and restful than migraine inducing neon. We did find that our stern balcony cabin was affected by vibrations. We never needed an alarm call as docking each morning was enough to wake us and get us up. No big deal as we would have been getting up then anyway but on the final night we docked at Barcelona around 4AM and I wasn't too happy particularly as I had already been up twice due to coughing fits and a sore throat. This later turned into a bad cold and then a chest infection but better it was the last night that the first night to fall ill.
I didn't notice many announcements being made or couldn't hear them because of where I was. I expect I have developed some form of selective deafness in regard to these.
On 6 nights we ate at speciality restaurants which carry an extra charge. We do this because we have enjoyed them so much previously and do not have any issues with paying extra. We did not eat in either of the dining rooms even once. We don't always eat breakfast but when we did we usually ate in the Great Outdoors as they had the things we wanted. We also ate a couple of lunches in that area. We ate one evening at the buffet as we were tired and just wanted to eat and go. The selection was just fine for us and we were visited by June who got us some water and chatted for a while. We had a really nice ice cream sundae for our dessert from a very temptingly stocked ice cream bar. Ice cream was also available from a soft serve machine and there was one of these located at the Great Outdoors area on the pool deck which seemed to get a lot of good use during the week from what I saw.
THe buffet staff were very efficient at turning the tables over, they were very quick to clear tables ready for the next people. I did hear that it was manic in there in the mornings but we only visited there the once so cannot really comment on that. One morning in the Great Outdoors area Sanja, Maitre 'd from Le Bistro, who we had met a few nights earlier came over to see me. Tony was away getting eggs cooked and Sanja was concerned I had no coffee. She went and got me some and bought back half a glass of milk as she wasn't sure if I took milk or how much I liked. When she came back she went and got Tony a coffee too. Great service from a lovely lady.
We ate twice at Moderno, once at Shaghais, once at Cagney's and twice at Le Bistro. Moderno was a new concept for us not having this type of restaurant where we live and we were very keen to try it based on what I have previously read here. We were not disappointed by it at all. The salad bar was great but I was very careful not to fill up with food from it which I could easily have done. The Seafood Chowder was nice and my favourite meat was Garlic Beef closely followed by everything else on the menu. Loved the fried banana side dish.
We always enjoy the food at Le Bistro and were not disappointed here. Excellent meals both times and excellent service too. Both times we left feeling very satisfied with the experience. On our first visit to Le Bistro we were served by Melanie and Ana. We didn't see much of Ana but Melanie was great fun, she made us laugh a few times and was very attentive. She told us her husband worked in Cagney's and of course when we went there on Tony's birthday we were wondering which of the servers he was. At the end of our meal I asked Malvin our server if he knew and he asked me if she was hot. I said I thought she was a very nice young lady and he said he might invite her to his cabin if I would introduce them.I said I can't do that she is a married lady and her husband might want to kill us both. Then he laughed and showed me his wedding ring and told us that he was Melanie's husband and that he was expecting us as Melanie had told him we were coming on Wednesday night and he had asked to be our server when we arrived. The second time we went to Le Bistro Melanie was not our server but she found a minute to come over and chat about how Malvin had joked with us. A really nice young couple who are missing their baby such a lot but are looking forward to spending xmas with him this year. Overall our dining experiences were very good and we had no issues with either food or service in any restaurant or bar. Service was always prompt and courteous everywhere we went on board.
What I missed was never seeing any chilled fruit soups anywhere onboard. I liked these a lot when I had them before.
The itinerary was quite exhausting with 3 very busy days all coming together so we didn't do much of the entertainment preferring a quiet drink in a bar and a nice meal each evening before an early night. We did go to see Blue Man Group on the first sea day and really enjoyed it. We kicked off with one of the blue cocktails which I liked but Tony wasn't sure about. I did offer to take his off his hands but he declined and drank it all so I doubt it was that bad after all. The show was like nothing we had ever seen before. I was enthralled from start to finish and came away with a big smile. We also attended the Q & A session they did in the Atrium later that week and enjoyed learning about the performers and the show.
We did pop into Howl one night but it wasn't for us and we left quite soon after arriving. We were not interested in the Legends and do wonder what qualifies someone to be a legend. Probably something there for all age groups but I had only knowledge of Elton John as I must be too old for whoever the other two were. We tend to prefer peace and quiet or low level music such as the guitarist who played at the Maltings Bar nightly. We would have liked to go to see the Beatles tribute but were too tired and chose bed instead. The entertainment on the pool deck was OK but got a bit too loud at times and when they were doing the games. We found Spice H2O to be a better venue for us on the 2 sea days. The freestyle daily seemed to have lots of activities listed particularly on the sea days. I never got around to trying any of the slides but I did go in the pool and hot tub at Spice H2O. Conclusion, we liked the Blue Men for being different and the lower key artists more than the other offerings.
Port & Shore Excursions
We both found the ports on this itinerary to be excellent. The 3 port days were spent touring with Rome in a Limo who provided us with a very good service. We were part of a group from the roll call and enjoyed everyones' company very much. For me the highlight was Pompeii. I love archaeological ruins so this was it for me as was the Coliseum in Rome. I'm not really an art lover at all but liked the galleries we saw but tended to get bored quickly. The architecture in Pisa, Florence and Rome was stunning and more my thing than looking at paintings and sculptures. Main drawback was the crowds and the heat. It certainly made a big difference to pre book those venues we could and avoid waiting in long lines. Our daily Gelato stop was very welcome and very, very yummy. We were actually the very first folks to be admitted to Pompeii that day and we made the most of being ahead of the pack in the cool of the early morning. If we did this again we would try to go right at the start of the season or towards the end as the heat and the crowds was a little too much for me. Since my heart attack I have preferred a slower lifestyle and we do live in a quiet, rural area so tend to find big cities a little too frenetic these days.I was very glad that Friday was a sea day and an opportunity to get some rest after those three ports. I was very tired each night and felt exhausted by Thursday lunch time. It was nice to have a slower pace as we visited Sorrento and Positano that afternoon.
We had a quiet morning in Palma visiting the Cathedral which is very nice and walked the old town stopping for a drink and some people watching in a square. We returned to the ship at lunchtime as we just wanted to relax and I have previously spent time on the island. Our verdict is that the 3 Italian ports which we had not visited before were great but having them on 3 consecutive days was tiring and I should have paced it a little better for me. We needed a sea day in there somewhere but given the geography this is simply not possible. Having now visited the main sites of Pisa, Florence and Rome I would choose to do a few more relaxing activities in the ports on a future visit or stay on board for one of the days.
We left the ship at 8.15AM and grabbed our bags from a carousel and joined the taxi line. This moved very fast and we were soon heading for our hotel where we left our bags and went out to explore Barcelona. We stayed 2 nights in the city before going home. We didn't do as much as we hoped due to me being unwell but we did get to go to the Nou Camp Football Stadium which we wanted to do. We even got to hold the Champions League Trophy which is probably the closest it will ever get to Wolverhampton in my lifetime.
We left London Heathrow in the rain and it was no surprise to find it raining when we arrived back 10 days later.
Was this our best ever cruise? Well I still have a soft spot for our first cruise on the Star to Alaska and I loved every moment of our two cruises on the Pearl but this is very, very close. My initial reservations about the Epic being crowded were dispelled by the end of the first sea day. Sea days and meal times are the times when crowds are very noticeable on any ship but the Epic handles this very well. The pool deck was quite busy in the afternoon but we found space at Spice H2O and then when we had enough sun we easily found a shady area to sit and enjoy a drink. Quieter less populated areas are there for those who seek them. The design and layout of the ship along with Freestyle makes it easy to have the cruise you want. Plenty of entertainment options and venues plus activities for those who want that. Easy to find quieter relaxing areas for those who want a little less and more peace and quiet.
We didn't have problems getting food during the day and ate in speciality restaurants at night so I don't know how busy the two dining rooms were at peak times. We enjoyed all of the food offered, neither saw nor tried anything inedible and I had no problems at all sticking to my diet with a few treats thrown in as it was a special occasion. I lost 3 pounds during the week even though I didn't do any of my exercise routine just walking. As for my thoughts on the cabin I found it to be different but very functional and it worked fine for us when we were in there as long as we didn't need to pass each other at the bottom of the bed.
For me the best thing about the Epic was the crew. The best crew I have encountered on any ship. They were always there for us and nothing was ever too much trouble for anyone. The crew seemed very happy and I believe that a happy crew begins with their leadership and I saw the crew being helped and supported by senior staff on many occasions even with somewhat dirty or menial tasks such as clearing up spills. There seemed a true pride in the ship and the job. Officers were very visible throughout the ship and several of the one's we met at the Cruise Critic M & G stopped to chat and see how we were doing and was there something we needed during the week. I have no idea who the Captain was. Having sailed with the gregarious Lars Bengtson on the Pearl twice I found the Captain of the Epic to be somewhat invisible. He did make one announcement to my knowledge but I do not recall seeing him out and around like Captain Lars. No big deal though but it would have been nice to see him or hear him, probably just too busy and maybe a little shy.
I didn't like the 8% additional VAT added because the ship was sailing from Spain. Here in the UK the price you see is the price you will pay as VAT is always included in that price not added when you pay. I have got used to adding 15% to drinks so I expect I will get used to adding another 8%. Two diet Pepsi are offered at $2.10 per drink but reality was that this is just over $5 when you pay. Not a sticking point or deal breaker but I didn't like it much at all and will be wary of sailing from Spanish ports in future. At present it seems that other European ports are not asking for this payment but I wonder how long it will be before they all decide to levy this tax even when ships are outside of their territorial waters as the Spanish do.
We would definitely sail on the ship again. I would like to be on board for longer than 7 nights though as I came away feeling that there were many things we didn't do either due to lack of time or because we were too tired from our hectic port schedule. We will be looking at future itineries with interest and may do the Western Med again but with a less stenuous port schedule enabling us to have a more relaxing time and enjoy the ship a little more than we felt able this time. We had a good time on board.