Since booking a Mini Suite on the Epic a few months ago I have been reading with interest the reviews on this site.
How I wondered if we had thrown our money away; the awful cabins with strange bathrooms and no room at the end of the bed. The bland food in the Garden Caf. The expensive drinks and the overbearing sales techniques that have blithed the poor reviewers. Even the lack of central multi-storied atrium seemed to have concerned worried travellers. I read all the reviews with increasing woe and so with trepidation we set off the Barcelona on Sunday 2nd October 2011.
Perhaps I should explain a little about myself. I am a bloke knocking on 50 and have travelled extensively both with my job and for holidays. You could say that I have certain standards that I dont wish to compromise and my friends would say that I am interesting to be with especially if I dont consider the price and promise to meet the actual offering. Yes I find I will often send food back (albeit I will not agree to a replacement, as the human being is not good at accepting criticism without revenge: I value my health).
Embarkation was a breeze.
Disembarkation was a breeze (we wheeled our own bags without any issues).
We both thought the stateroom was just lovely and the curved lines a great success. Yes the toilet compartment was a little cramped and the acoustics were not great, but this was not so bad and I have stayed in many a hotel with the same issues. We have travelled on the Legend and Navigator before and the sinks on both of these vessels were pretty small, so I have to ponder exactly how large are the guests that have complained? Surely they can get their hands into the sink to wash them; their faces cannot be that big and are they using loofers as toothbrushes? Strangely NCL have provided a wonderful shower that I used twice a day. Sink not an issue.
The length of the bed has been mentioned! I am 6 2 and hey presto I fitted a treat. Actually the bed was extremely comfortable. I liked the little reading lights on a stalk and especially liked the interactive TV where I could check my billing. However there could be a better choice of channels as it does appear that NCL would rather you spend a few dollars renting a movie!
This point leads me nicely into the often criticised up-selling that can be found on-board. Yep they want to take photographs and make cash; yep they want to sell you expensive drinks and yep they want you to go to the surcharge restaurants. They certainly want you to go on the NCL organised excursions. But they are not in your face and we never got anything other than a polite OK when we said no thank you.
Furthermore, the same up-selling is evident on the other mass market cruise lines.
The food. What are people complaining about! The Garden Caf and the Great Outdoors. What a great selection. In fact it is such a great selection that I noted that many guests had filled their plates with a rare smorgasbord of dishes that would not normally be seen on the same plate. Such was the choice that these poor guests were so confused and bewildered that they were mixing such items as curry with fish and chips with a smattering of blue cheese salad dressing. I am sure these people are not the ones complaining of bland food! I broke all the man rules and actually ate salad at lunchtimes! Peculiarly I enjoyed it and suffered no ill effects!
We decided that we would splash out on some the speciality restaurants. We found that the Italian on the first night was good and enjoyed excellent service. I can understand the comments regarding the food at the Cirque but I have this to say. These guys are trying to hit a happy medium! They have to. There is one starter, one main course and one desert to be served (pretty much at the same time) to a wide audience that ranges in age and culture. I attend Industry and Conference dinners in London at prestige hotels and experience similar. If you are complaining about the food at the Cirque venue then you have missed the real point. This being what is happening 15 in front of you not on the plate that is only 12 inches in front. We also paid extra for Cagneys, Moderno and Teppanyaki and found the surcharge to be reasonable and the service excellent. It is staggering the quality they come up with in the middle of the sea!
Taste was reasonable, although the quality of the food was below that which you pay a little extra for. The biggest surprise was the quality of the food in OSheehans as this is included in your ticket. This is American Diner food and was excellent and you can order as much as you like!
Entertainment was really very good. The big productions on other cruise ships are goodish and if you like the big theatre feel then you may prefer these. The Epic goes for a more intimate feel. We have seen Cirque de Soleil at the Royal Albert Hall for the past 3 years. Its a big production, or rather the set is a big production but with similar performances as you will witness on the Epic. We choose to sit up-stairs and the way the Spiegel Tent has been set up, everyone has a great view. For me this was better than the big London performances and believe me far cheaper! Blue Man Group was a revelation. Loved them and went standby to see them twice. The Beatle tribute band that was moved from H20 to Fat Cats due to weather were fantastic. Again the venue helps as you really get to see the performers up close. I dont really like the Beatles music, but loved the show as the personalities of band really shone through. This was also true of the Slam Allen Band who we hold entirely responsible for some late nights.
I am an avid non smoker who occasionally can smell if the car driver in front is smoking. We didnt spend any real time in the Casino as I cannot gamble. This is not a religious thing I simply loose my money quickly! However if I had have wanted to drop a little cash I would not have done so as this area is quite smoky when busy! Oh well live and let live!
We have a good dance at the White Hot Party although we did not spend a lot of time at H2O (too many other bars to enjoy).
It defies belief that there are 3 flumes, and we particularly liked the one that you had to use the rings. It was good to shoot around the bowl many times!
As you may have gathered there are more activities than time and we didnt get round to going the following: Bliss nightclub; bowling, Spa; Comedy Club and Duelling Pianos, Legends in Concert, Ice Bar; Chinese Restaurant; the Noodle Bar; the Sushi Bar. There are probably a few others that are tucked away.
So can we recommend this ship? You may be surprised to learn that no we cannot; well that is if you like going to the same restaurant every night and delight in getting to know the waiter and other table mates! If you like the big Broadway shows! If you like a standard square cabin with little technology! If you like dressing in tuxedos and ball-gowns! If you like a chocolate midnight buffet! If you like a formalised Cruise Director! These are not bad things but if you do then this ship is not for you and it would serve you better to book a traditional cruise.
I believe that NCL and their Freestyle Cruise is aimed at a very different demographic. We fall into this demographic and loved it.