I took this cruise, along with pre and post days visit to Barcelona for R&R from my job in Afghanistan. It was originally intended as a cruise with my daughter for her high school graduation present; however she is more ambitious than I was at that age, so she decided to take additional college classes over the summer, and we will try again for the Epic during her winter break, when I will be back home.
I arrived in Barcelona on June 19th. The protesters were still camped out in force on the Placa Catalunya. I learned later that there had been a huge rally that day with 100,000 people. (That number seems exaggerated.) In any event, I saw no evidence of anything approaching that number of people during my time there. I stayed at a hotel called Amrey Diagonal, which is on the east side of the city. I was pleasantly surprised to find this hotel was at the end of what appeared to be another Ramblas, with a pedestrian walkway between the lanes of traffic and numerous restaurants on both sides. The only things missing were the street performers and those guys selling those irritating whistles.
While in Barcelona, I highly recommend using the hop-on hop-off buses. There are two different lines though, and the buses are nearly identical, so make sure you are at the correct bus stop for the line you use. I would also get a T-10 metro ticket if you'll be in town for more than a few days. It is easy to use and can save you a lot of walking if, like me, you tend to wander around aimlessly. Finally, again if you'll be in town for a few days, take a tour outside the city. I took a trip to Tarragona and Sitges, both interesting places.
Embarkation: I don't know how Norwegian could make it any easier! I dropped my bag off outside the terminal and was on the ship literally within 10 minutes. Filled out one form, got my photo taken, room key card and strolled aboard. Lunch is served!
Cabin: I stayed in the Studio cabin area. If other lines don't copy this concept, they will probably lose business once enough word gets around. One thing I was surprised to learn though is that some families use this area. Not a bad idea for single parent cruisers with somewhat independent children, or younger teens. They can get adjoining staterooms and the parent(s) can stay in one room and the kids right next door. I didn't do a cost comparison but it is probably not much more expensive than getting a larger cabin, and also would give more privacy to the parents and kids. There is also the Solo Traveler Gathering nightly in the "Living Room". I expected this to be better attended, especially considering they invite other single travellers not in the Studios to attend. In actuality, there were never more than about 20 attendees on any given night. I don't know if this is typical of all the Epic cruises, maybe because we were in Europe.
Ship: The Epic is very nicely laid out and even though it was near capacity, I never felt crowded. I had no problem getting around despite it's size, and did not get lost. Although I am very sensitive to second hand smoke, but had no issues as I passed through the casino. There is no real "wow" factor on the ship; the "atrium" area looks much like a hotel lobby, and there are no real fancy rooms or areas that I could see. I was never in the suites area so I don't know what that looks like. In my opinion, this isn't a drawback. I think the novelty of the appearance of the most spectacular atrium would begin to fade after the first few pass throughs, and it would just be more background scenery. I think Norwegian did well to spend the money elsewhere on the ship. I tried the so called "jogging track" one day, but it was too tough on my ankles making the sharp turns at each end, so stuck to the treadmills the rest of the trip. I would rather see a real jogging track on the upper decks, but I know that Norwegian has to prioritize. At least they made an attempt!
Dining: no problems here. I never had trouble getting into any dining area I wanted to eat. The food was good; although I am not a "foodie" and am easy to please. I dined at Taste, Cagney's, La Cuchina, the Garden Cafe and O'Sheehans. I also had a couple continental breakfasts in the Studio Lounge. Id did not order room service or pizza. The dinner at the Speigel Tent during the Circus of Dreams was good.
Entertainment: I was never bored, except when I wanted to be. The Blue Man Group put on an outstanding show (I went twice). Legends was okay, nothing special. I was disappointed with Steven Sorentino. I love impressions and comedy, but his act seemed very dated (still making Bill Clinton jokes, and do we really need to keep hearing the obligatory Sarah Palin joke? I'm not a big fan but they were not even funny the first time, let along the 50th). I did enjoy the part of his act where he performed Smokey Robinson's "Tears of a Clown" while images of classic comedians of the past and present played on the screen. I was not expecting much from Circus of Dreams, but was pleasantly surprised and impressed by the skill of the performers. Even though I witnessed it, I am pretty sure quite a few of the moves they made were impossible for humans to accomplish. I am not a jazz fan, but enjoyed the hour or so I spent in Fat Cats. Slam Allan and his band put on a good show. I wanted to spend more time in Howl at the Moon, but had too much going on. I went twice and had a good time. The Beatles Tribute band was great from the sound, even if the band members had barely a passing resemblance to the real thing. "Paul" played right handed. But that is a minor issue, they sounded close enough to be more than cruise ship worthy.
Shore excursions: I was a solo traveller, so I took three ship sponsored tours and did Palma on my own. I plan on coming back to Italy when I have more time, and can bring my daughter; she is really interested in Italy, having taken Latin in high school and I want to see the more well know places when she can be there too. I took the Pisa and Beach tour. Pisa was interesting but I would have preferred more time there and less time at the beach. I took the Mystery of Ostia Antica tour in Rome; the day we were in port the Vatican was closed, and Rome is too big to attempt in one day anyway. Also, I wanted to compare the ruins there with the ruins in Pompeii, which I visited the following day. I had been to Pompeii before, but the guide we had this time did a much better job taking us around.
Summary: Norwegian in general and the Epic in particular provide an outstanding experience at what I feel is a reasonable price. The staff and crew all seem happy to be working there, the shows were good, very few bingo and shopping announcements compared to previous cruises, no hard sell attempts for liquor or shopping. I will hopefully be on the Epic again in December, depending on my daughter's school schedule.