Embarkation and first impressions
Embarkation is so easy with NCL, Royal Caribbean please take note! We arrived at the port for 11:30 and were onboard before midday. We took our luggage straight to the cabin which was already available and then went to lunch in the garden cafe, what a great way to start a cruise!
First impressions of the Epic is that it's quite an ugly ship from the outside, but though it lacks the stunning atriums of Royal Caribbean it is very nicely set out and everything's easy to find. The restaurants, bars, shops and theatres are mainly confined to deck 6, 7, and the pool deck (15). The casino is huge but unlike previous reviewers we didn't find it smelled of tobacco as we were expecting. Next to the casino is the 'irish' themed bar O'Sheehan's which has a large bar area and lots of tables to sit and eat at.
The pool areas are well spaced with more sunbeds than I have ever seen before! There is plenty of room to accommodate everyone, and even a couple of hidden away spaces on the upper decks if you want to get away from the hustle and bustle. There is a bar area by the pools and the Spice H20 area which is adult only until 8pm. What the Epic lacks here is an inside bar area from which to watch the sail-away, which I always like and missed here.
We stayed in a spa mini-suite (14102) which was situated right next to the spa and the gymnasium. This particular mini-suite has a bathtub as well as a shower but not all the rooms are the same. There is only access to a few cabins here so consequently there was next to no 'traffic' noise from people walking in the corridor. The balcony is very large and also very private, no being overlooked or window reflections from the other balconies. There is a curtained area where you can separate the bath and toilet from the main cabin and we didn't have a problem with the lay-out of the sink as this was next to the sofa rather than the bed. Bath/shower comes with shampoo, conditioner and shower gel.
Plenty of storage , we just had to make sure we checked every drawer as I'm sure it'd be easy to leave something behind. There is even storage behind the sofa which we used to empty the mini-bar so that we could put our own water and soft drinks in the fridge. Thanks to our steward Rolando for looking after us so well.
As part of our package we had access to the spa facilities, which I didn't use until the last couple of days. What a shame I didn't take a look before because the hydrothermal pool was great. I used the gym most mornings and never found more than 3 or 4 people in there.
We dined most of the time in the garden cafe. For the most part the food was excellent, always hot and with plenty of choice (especially for us Indian loving brits!). I also really liked the salads which I thought had lots of variety. We had room service a couple of times, both the pizza and the burgers were really good. We intended to try the speciality restaurants but in the end ran out of time. Really wanted to try the noodle bar as the food looked really good.
I didn't use the breakfast area in O'Sheehans until well into our trip and would highly recommend this as a great start to the day. Instead of helping yourself to a buffet, it's a sit-down breakfast, which comes with a pot of coffee, juice and fresh hot toast. We had appetizers in O'Sheehans a couple of times- we found that the buffalo wings were so filling we didn't need to eat dinner later. Bar staff here were excellent, thanks to Jay and Danny for looking after us.
We spend about 60-70% of our time onboard in our cabin, just relaxing, reading and watching a movie. I'm so glad we brought ipads pre-loaded with movies because the channel selection was appalling. There is a choice of BBC World, CNN and a couple of other American news channels, the nickelodeon channel in several languages and a single channel which repeats a few episodes from various American series. No movie channels at all! You can of course choose to watch a movie from the NCL premium selection priced at $9.99 each, but seriously! No other channels! NCL you should consider offering a package whereby for say $100 for the week you can choose any amount of films from your premium selection instead of $9.99 per movie! I would certainly pay for that!
I only wanted to see one show, the Blue Man Group (shows really aren't my thing) and I did enjoy it, although some of the jokes were strung out just that bit too long. I heard 'Twice as Nice' a couple of times whilst having a drink in the Atrium bar and they were good, worth a look.
O'Sheehan's overlooks the Atrium bar and if it were a serious sports bar this could be a real problem with the loud music from downstairs when trying to watch a game, however the sports programmes available were terrible. We had a selection of dry slope ski-ing, mountainbike riding and mens handball! Since we were departing from Barcelona we at least expected some soccer to be shown, and even though there's a rugby world cup going on, we didn't' even get to see highlights!
Ports and how to get there
I won't give an extensive review of the ports as this is a highly personal choice, and what I may wish to see may not be of interest to you, however I will recommend that you try going under your own steam rather than taking the extortionately overpriced excursions organised by NCL (take another note NCL your trips are up to twice the price of other cruise lines!) For example, a combined rail/metro ticket from Civitavecchia to Rome cost just €9 each! If you want to go by train you get the free shuttle bus into town and follow the sign for the station. There is a little shop next to the shuttle drop off which sells these tickets but it was heaving so we went directly to the train station and there was no queue. Ticket office personnel speak English.
In Naples you walk straight off the ship into the port. There is a bus-stop nearby that takes you to Pompeii on a return ticket for €10 each! The ferries to Capri also depart from next to the port but I didn't make a note of how much tickets were.
In Palma you can walk right off the boat and get a bus into the town centre for €1! We were able to hire a car really cheaply from the airport which you get to on the same bus (cost €2) and only takes 25 minutes. Don't be afraid, try it yourself!
Demographics of the passengers seemed to be 40% brits, 40% americans and the rest made up mainly of spanish, germans and chinese. There were few children on board. This was reflected in the number of people using the bars which is much more than we experienced on previous cruises, and the better for it. To a fault all staff we encountered were courteous and professional. Unlike previous reviewers I never once felt over-crowded, which takes some doing on a ship of this size. Never had a problem with people pushing in line at the buffet. Never had a problem getting a drink at the bar. I didn't use the sunbeds but I did notice there were always plenty available.
I have no hesitation in recommending a trip on the Epic, but you do need to prefer 'freestyle' over traditional cruising. I didn't get the sense that NCL nickel-and-dime you as much as I have found on other cruises, I found that you were left to get on with what you wanted to do, when you wanted to do it. I will keep an eye on the schedulof the Epic because I'd like to sail with her again. And as for NCL, my next one's already booked!