Norwegian Epic Mediterranean Cruise
What is to follow is my own review not endorsed in any way by the NCL Cruise line. My only reference points at the moment are The Poseidon, The Love Boat and The Titanic, obviously not exactly stellar, but all that I have to go by. You may find this review helpful, though, if you are about to embark on your first cruise, as I will fill it with tips that are not found in the marketing brochures. Overall, we gave The EPIC 4 out of 5 stars. Yes, we were first time cruisers, but we are old hats at staying at hotels and this floating hotel in many respects does compare to hotels on land. We will save the 5 out of 5 for that cruise that is totally amazing.The NCL event coordinator met us at the airport in Barcelona - following baggage claim - and after a brief 10 minute wait, loaded us on their bus. The drive to the port was uneventful and relaxing. First glance of the magnificent hotel on water that is the Norwegian Cruise Line's ship was quite incredible. To say this 4000+ capacity, 19 deck, 1,080 ft / 329.5 m long ship is ' large' is just not good enough. It is absolutely MASSIVE. So massive, there is a 28.5 foot draft to this ship. Should you be a newbie to cruising like I was and want to impress your fellow travelers, 'draft' means, the depth of water (from the waterline to the bottom of the ship) needed to float a ship.
Let's begin with priorities. Here is a checklist of what you will really want to know prior to traveling on the cruise:
THE ADDITIONAL COSTS:
1. Cash and Traveler's Cheques are accepted, however, you will need to lodge a deposit of $100 U.S.D. per person, per day at check-in.
2. All purchases are charged to your room card. A major credit card is required at check-in (Visa, MasterCard or American Express).
3. There will be a $12.00 fee per day, per person, charged to your bill to cover the stateroom attendants, and apparently, this fee may be "negotiated" . We did not negotiate our fee as our stateroom attendant, "Juan" was incredible and more than deserving of the fee.
4. You will have pool towels in your room upon arrival. After a day at the pool, be sure to return them to the pool deck booth to exchange for clean towels. If you show up to the booth without towels to exchange, you may find a $25 fee on your bill for not returning them.
5. You can purchase a soda drinks card for $6 per person, per day. Sodas on their own are $3.00 each.
6. Dining is included unless you order specialty drinks or want to dine at one of the specialty restaurants.
7. Expect to pay $8-$10 per cocktail.
8. The internet is SLOW and costs about $30 an hour. So if you can wait to connect, WAIT TO CONNECT. You are on vacation after all!! I know, I connected too......... ugh.
9. A 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to bar drinks, and 18 percent is added to spa and salon services. For passengers using concierge and butler service, NCL recommends a gratuity "commensurate with the services rendered." The bill can be paid in cash or with credit/debit cards and traveler's checks.
10. The excursions are expensive and to be honest, were somewhat of a let down for us. In hindsight, we could have and should have, researched these better in advance to ensure we were happy with the travel details and who is conducting the tour (especially important when you are with kids). Be sure to inquire about length of time you will actually spend at the locations and the breakdown of the day. More about that below.
11. The cruise photos. Be forewarned that the ship's paparazzi will begin shooting as soon as you embark the ship. From that point on, the photographers will want to snap, snap, snap so you will buy, buy, buy the photos from the cruise line. Tip - have a friend or make a friend to take those family piccies and save some money in the process, as the on-board photos are VERY expensive. Alternatively, at the end of your cruise, you can buy a DVD of your adventure for around $300. Should you decide to do this, bear this in mind from day one and get in every photo you can. The DVD will be worth it then. Otherwise, not so much. Another tip is to be sure if you are ordering photos, you leave plenty of time to do so. The photo area was extremely busy the last evening on board the ship. We had no requests for photographs the last full day at sea, so this may be a good time to order your photos, or put together a photo book or buy the DVD - you get the idea.
12. The ice bar on ship - there is a $20 per person cover charge. Reservations must be made for this bar. As we were traveling with 'Bug' we elected to give the ice bar a miss. Besides, The Man from Eng and I had previously been to a real ice bar in Iceland and decided nothing can compare to the original.
FLIGHTS: If you are flying to the embarkation port, be sure you understand and are content with the flight times of your journey. You may have much longer delays than anticipated (layovers, length of time between leaving the ship and your flight home). I strongly encourage you to discuss this when booking the trip. You may have no choice, but it will help put your mind at rest to know that you inquired further. The check out times on board the ship are non-negotiable in the main, so when they tell you it is time to get off, you are expected to do so, even if your flight home is 9 hours away. To read our flight adventure, be sure to read "Lufthansa, yes or no, on www.thelandofeng.com
THE CABIN: When booking, pay close attention to where you will be staying and inquire about this in advance. For example, we would advise you do not stay in a stateroom that is under a restaurant, over a nightclub, near the children's club (Kid's Crew) or under the pool deck - unless you like A LOT OF NOISE. We were on the 8th deck, opted for a Family Balcony room and for the 3 of us, it worked out very well. It was quiet and comfy. Decoration is modern, with curvy lines to help you pass one another on the way to the balcony or the shower (opposite ends of the room). The bed is somewhat of a short bed. If you are 6' tall or more, you will notice this. The toilet (loudest flusher I have ever heard in my life) is separated from the shower and there was surprisingly, a lot of storage in the room (under the bed, behind the pull out couch, over head, etc). There is a mini bar in the room with mini bar prices and for some reason, the mini bar was not replenished during the week. We did not complain as we knew it would have been too tempting to again eat the Haribo sweets and peanuts!
Daily, we had an animal made out of white towels on our bed, to welcome us back. 'Bug' loved this and in true NCL style, on the last day, there was an invitation from NCL to buy the 'How to make a towel animal' DVD for $9! I shall put you out of your misery. Yes, we did buy the DVD. I know - don't say it!!!
THE SHIP: Incredibly clean ship and facilities. Five of the seven days, we saw the window washer going around the ship in his motorized cage - very cool; hand sanitizer dispensers everywhere (even in the elevators), and when entering the buffet, a friendly staff member is standing with a big bottle to spritz your hands with the antibacterial spray. You get so accustomed to this that you will automatically put your hands out after a day or so. The decor is understated, the halls are quite windy although we got used to the layout fairly quickly. TIP. Try using the stairs as often as you can to help work off all the food and drink you will be partaking in!!! Good luck! Oh and a quick word about the Lifeboats aboard. Lifeboats hold up to 293 people in each and look like small space capsules. I couldn't find more info on them on the NCL website which seems a bit odd. If you find it, let me know.
NCL has Freestyle Dining, which basically means it's all up to you!
With Freestyle dining there are no fixed dining times or pre-assigned seating. There are 21 dining options on board. Eleven of them are included in the cruise fare, including a private restaurant and grill for Courtyard Suite and Villa occupants and ship-wide room service. In addition to the ship's main restaurant, Manhattan Room, additional dining venues with no surcharge include the Garden Cafe which has a wide selection throughout the day (ask for gluten free if you need as they will cater to allergies, diabetes, etc., even in the buffet), a Lido buffet restaurant and the poolside grill, Great Outdoors, plus Spice H2O (Latin & Asian-influenced cuisine in the adults-only complex), the atrium restaurant Taste, O'Sheehan's Neighborhood Bar & Grill (comfort food) and the Studio Lounge.
Norwegian Cruise Line EPIC has ten restaurants with a surcharge ranging from $10 to $25 per person.
• La Cucina, Tuscan-style eatery serving regional Italian specialties, $10 per person;
• Cirque Dreams & Dinner, two shows nightly including a three-course meal, $15 for general seating/$20 per person for preferred seating;
• Shanghai's, Norwegian Epic's new Chinese restaurant serving a delicious mix of Chinese dishes and noodle bar specialties, $15 per person;
• Shanghai's Noodle Bar, a la carte pricing;
• Wasabi, expansive sushi and sake bar, a la carte pricing;
• Le Bistro, Norwegian's elegant bistro serving classic French cuisine with an American flair, $20 per person;
• Moderno Churrascaria, expansive salad bar and choice of a variety of meats served by tableside passadors, $18 per person;
• Cagney's Steakhouse, the line's signature American steakhouse, $25 per person;
• Teppanyaki, the largest signature Japanese experiential restaurant at sea, $25 per person; and
• Pizza delivery, $5, available 24 hours around the ship.
Remember, Specialty Restaurant means cover charge. We dined at La Cucina, Cirque Dreams & Dinner, Moderno, and Manhattan and found them to be excellent. The only criticism I have, as a mother, is they need more choices for the children at the Specialty Restaurants and be sure your bill is halved for the child's cover charge portion when you get the bill. We suggested to La Cucina's Italian restaurant they put pizza on the children's menu, as the pizza on the main menu is much too big for children. If you cruise EPIC, let me know if they have done this.
Excellent, excellent, excellent. Two of the shows we saw and highly recommend were The Blue Man Group - there is nothing like it and it is simply, not to be missed (see video below) - book in advance and seat yourself upon arrival. Plus, there are new shows like Cirque Dreams and Dinner in the Spiegel Tent which was absolutely stunning and amazing - great fun for the whole family (you must book for this in advance - seating is also first come, first serve so line up early. A three-course meal is included, in a space small enough that you can almost touch the performers. Very entertaining!
Also worth mentioning is the shuffleboard, the online casino, the video games (which we all enjoyed SEVERAL times at $1.50 per - hey we were traveling with an 8 year old) and bowling.
Impressive looking, there is no getting around it. The 'Aqua Park' includes three multi-story water slides. As stated on The Epic's website, " The first one is specifically designed for the not-so-adventurous and zips straight through the rock-climbing wall. The second slide is for the slightly more adventurous, because it twists and turns down three stories. Then there's The Epic Plunge, the only tube slide at sea that puts the blast of inner-tubing into the core of a bowl slide, with a thrilling drop through a 200-foot long tube. The Aqua Park also includes two main pools with arching water effects that illuminate at night, five hot tubs, a wading pool and a kid's pool that features whimsical sculptures, water sprays and a slide. Finally, when you are looking to dry off, there's plenty of room to soak up some rays on one of our expansive sun decks".
Here are our tips regarding the pool. Especially on days at sea, if you like to lounge, GET THEIR EARLY. The sun beds fill up fast and it is very busy at the pool. There are attendants for the slides which is good, however, we never saw any NCL staff at the pool area and in our opinion, for safety reasons they should be, as the pools are small and no one is monitoring capacity which often seemed over capacity, nor was anyone stopping the kids from jumping into the pools. This is an accident waiting to happen and the size of the pools has been a topic of criticism in the past for The EPIC. They are just too small and should be monitored for safety. Full stop. The bar staff will come to you to for drinks orders, so once you find a lounger, bring a book and settle in for a lovely day at the Aqua Park.
STAFF: One word. Superb. Their 'meet all you greet' attitude is witnessed time and time again. From the Restaurant Manager who made Bug's 8th birthday forever memorable, Mr. Martin, to the bartenders who served us at the Margarita tasting that wasn't (watch for this blog - very funny), to the maintenance staff, the antibacterial spray attendants (of which there are many), the waiters and of course our steward, Juan. They were lovely, polite and most accommodating. Stellar service. The only criticism has to be the ship's tannoy system. Every morning, the Captain would announce the day's activities, weather conditions, interesting factoids, etc., but unless you were standing in the hallway, you could not hear him. In our room, we had to open the door to hear the announcements. Even while dining in the Garden Cafe, we could not hear him. This became rather annoying.
EXCURSIONS: Costly, but fabulous if you have a guide who has a sense of humor (or a pulse). We did the Florence/Pisa Tour and the Sorrento/Pompei Tour. The descriptions NCL provide are accurate and helpful in deciding which excursions to book. Our tips would be to limit the excursions you do as they are quite tiring in ways you will not expect. The bus to the cities, etc., can be up to 1.5 hours each way. I guarantee you will fall asleep on the bus. Just try not to. You will do it! Our guide in Florence was well, amazing in his factoids but sadly lacking in the fun factor. Too much time spent on the details (I am talking D E T A I L S). We did have a lovely lunch in Florence, included in the tour. The visit to Pisa was fantastic, albeit too short. By the time we left Florence and drove to Pisa, we only had 45 minutes in Pisa, which was clearly not long enough. We were able to see the Tower, take a few photos, but there was no time to appreciate the historical walls or tour inside The Leaning Tower or The Piazza del Duomo next to the Tower. Insert sad face.
Sorrento and Pompei. Absolutely fantastic tour guide named Eugenio. Witty and interesting, not boring and extremely helpful. He took us on what he often referred to as "the airconditioned walking tour" which he said whenever there was a breeze. Sorrento is beautiful and well worth the excursion. Pompei was incredible and much larger than we had anticipated. TIP. Before you tour Pompei, stop at one of the many stands nearby and purchase the Reconstructed Pompei Guide. You will be able to envision what this city looked like even better if you have the book with you for the tour.
The key to this cruise is to read, read, read and ask, ask, ask prior to committing. We would definitely do this cruise again but in hindsight would have double checked or asked to change some of how we did it, especially with the flights and excursions. The best part of this holiday is all the unexpected pleasant memories that came out of it. Those will last a lifetime! Enjoy your cruise!