Review of 10/2/11 Mediterranean Honeymoon Cruise on the Norwegian Epic
Just a little background on me before starting. I am an avid cruiser... this was my 10th cruise. I've cruised on Princess, Carnival 2X, NCL Pearl, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity 3X, and Costa over the past 15 years. I just recently got married and this was our honeymoon. We are in our 30's and like a lively and fun atmosphere.
We arrived in Barcelona on the morning of 9/29 which gave us three full days of sightseeing before boarding. We took a cab from the Barcelona airport to our hotel, the W Barcelona. We were celebrating our honeymoon, so we decided to splurge. We got the W Barcelona for $250 per night and it was well worth it. Very hip, modern and well-designed. We were given a room with an amazing view of the sea and it has all of the bells and whistles of a W hotel (ambient lighting, curtains that open and close electronically, a HUGE shower room). Often times when we use Priceline it seems like we get the Priceline room -â€“ AKA the room that used to be a broom closet. This time we got the goods... the best. It was great to enjoy some luxury -â€“ especially in Europe! Back to the review... so we took a short nap back at the hotel and off to do sightseeing. Over the next three days we saw Antoni Gaudi's Casa Batllo, Parque Guell, Les Rambles (many times), and the Sagrada Familia (we spent an entire day there). These places I've mentioned are must-sees. Amazing architecture. We had great local food. We ate at McDonald's and KFC a few times... just kidding... I looked for the most local yokel places... had delicious tapas, paella, seafood. Barcelona is such a vibrant city. People are out and about until all hours of the night and it's just a magical city. If you ever go to Barcelona, do yourself a favor and go to Cal Pep. It's a Spanish tapas restaurant with the most delicious food -â€“ also reasonably priced. They treat you like family, but be prepared to wait to saddle up to the bar and indulge. Our trip to Cal Pep was a highlight of our trip. We read about Cal Pep while I was doing internet research before the trip. We could have spent a week there, but it was time to get on the Norwegian Epic for our 7 day cruise.
We took a cab from the W Hotel and got to the port for about 20 euros. Everything is expensive in Europe! Even if you try to be economical, you're still going to spend a fortune! Embarkation was a breeze. No line, walked right on board. We decided to walk around the ship for a while to explore. Grade: A+
Here is where I will give you my general thoughts on the cruise experience. Below I will report on the cruise port visits.
So the Epic is well... epic. It's really huge. The largest ship I've been on yet -â€“ 153,000 tons. A few years ago we were on Royal Caribbean's Adventure of the Seas at 140,000. Epic's public spaces really aren't grand at all. It has the feel of a casino with sprawling hallways, low ceilings. The atrium is very underwhelming for a ship of its size -â€“ only 2 floors. Also, there aren't many ocean views to be had throughout the ship. So those are the negatives, in my opinion, as I prefer larger, more impressive public areas with lots of windows looking out to the water. But the negatives really stop there. Epic is really designed tastefully, with a fresh and modern look. The colors are really toned down, but rich. The ship is appointed with great fixtures and nice furniture. Two years ago we were on the NCL Pearl and the Epic is beautiful in comparison, as the Pearl's color palette was a little on the loud side. Grade: B
The strengths of the Epic include the entertainment which is really second to none. We were able to see Blue Man Group which was really entertaining and fun. Legends in Concert was good, not great, but still a great time. Cirque Dreams was worth the up-charge on the lower end seats. Very entertaining, silly and fun. Is it still cruise entertainment? Yes. But it's the best I've seen. They have Howl at the Moon which is a lot of fun (though it did get quite crass at times), and music throughout the ship. We didn't get to see the comedian or the Spanish oriented entertainment (a Flamenco show and a musical act). You just have LOTS of options to choose from and never a dull moment. NCL has a really chill, fun vibe. We enjoyed the cruise staff and their events, including the White Hot Party and Fabba (the Abba-themed show). They had a great DJ and it was really lighthearted and FUN! We were dancing and carrying on for the entire 7 days. We went bowling on one of the sea days -â€“ I lost, but it was still fun! We did the water slides, including the Epic plunge -â€“ WOW, lots of fun. We had a Spa Balcony room, which included complementary passes to Mandara Spa, and we spent lots of time in there. It's really nice with heated tile loungers, a large balcony on the aft of the ship, a pool with Jacuzzi jets and hot tubs. Also saunas, and a room I called the "humid room." We are not usually spa kind of people, but since it was our honeymoon we just went with it and really enjoyed. I can imagine that the pool deck was quite crowded with the oodles of people on board, but we were just chilling in the spa. One problem with the spa -â€“ you can't drink alcohol in there! Well, we made up for it at Shaker's, the martini bar, and at Spice H20, an adults-only area at outside at the aft of the ship. Spice H20 is a great place to party. I can go on and on about the entertainment... but the main point is that it's FUN. Grade: A
The food on the cruise was good, in general, and very good in the specialty restaurants. We ate in the Manhattan room twice and the food was good, service was OK. Seems like the servers are spread too thin. We dined in Taste and found it about the same. There weren't long waits for us. As for specialty restaurants, we ate at Le Bistro, Shanghai's, Cirque Dreams and Cagney's. Le Bistro was the best of them all. The food was excellent and the service was the best on the ship. Hands down, this was the best meal we've ever had on a cruise ship. We ate at Le Bistro on the Pearl 2 years ago and it was underwhelming, but this experience was the opposite. Cagney's and Shanghai were both very good as well and worth the charge (actually, 2 friends that we met on board paid for our dinner at Shanghai's, but I really enjoyed!). Don't expect much from the food at Cirque Dreams and don't expect them to be flexible with the menu. Basically you get what you get, and if you don't like it, tough! It was fair, but the show kept your mind occupied. We ate at the breakfast buffet every morning and found the food to be good, and not too crowded -â€“ except for a couple of times. We ate at the buffet a couple times for lunch and found it to be good as well. I think the Pearl's grill on the pool deck has them beat as far as the burgers go though! Hand-scooped ice cream available at no charge -â€“ thumbs up to the rocky road. Also ate at O'Sheehans once, which is what it is -â€“ a place to get greasy, fried food. Grade: B (but A- if you only eat at the upcharge restaurants)
OK, so now to the controversial wave-designed, curved staterooms. As stated before, we had a Spa Balcony, which is just a basic balcony room with spa privileges. Someone said that the Spa Balcony rooms have more spa-like decor, but we didn't get a chance to see another balcony, so I can't confirm this. Like the rest of the ship, the room is decorated well, nice colors, modern/upscale feel. Very impressive. However, the room is tight as far as space to move around. It's tough to maneuver around the bed, and in between the closet and the couch area. If you are picky about stateroom size, you will not be happy. Storage, on the other hand, is excellent. There is plenty of space to store clothing, and pretty much every other item you could bring with shelving, room under the bed, etc. The bed is very soft and comfortable, however, it is rounded and if you are tall like I am (6'2"), your legs will be poking off the end. I slept fine though! However, if you think you'll be sensitive to a rounded bed, keep this in mind before booking Epic. The stateroom has a cool phone, well-situated reading lights, good lighting and a decent-sized balcony. Bathrooms -â€“ ummmm... well the glass doors aren't sound proof. Read between the lines on that one. I prefer the traditional enclosed bathrooms. The sink in the room wasn't as bad as people make it out to be. Grade: B
Our stateroom attendant was good, but didn't knock our socks off. He did everything we asked of him, but lacked a bit of the polish we've had from other stateroom attendants. Service around the ship was great -â€“ bar service, guest relations, etc. As stated before, dining staff in the non-pay dining rooms seemed spread too thin and service wasn't consistent. Not bad, you just didn't feel like royalty. The upcharge restaurants are another story -â€“ amazing service, particularly Le Bistro. The manager/hostess was amazing and went above and beyond for us. Our server was the tops as well (Analiza). But in the bars, on the pool deck, the service is excellent. Friendly, hard-working all the way -â€“ with a special shout-out to Vijay in Shaker's, the martini bar. Grade: B
The last time we cruised on the NCL Pearl we met a bunch of really FUN, unpretentious people who we had a fantastic time with. We met people who we ended up dining with, going on excursions with, and partying until all hours of the morning with. This time on the Epic was no different. First, we met lots of great people through our Cruise Critic roll-call which we then transferred over to Facebook. Then we also met people at Friends of Dorothy social-gatherings. It really makes a cruise even more special when you make new friends. Big thumbs up to John Usher who organized a Meet & Greet with NCL. They had all kinds of officers from the ship in attendance who introduced themselves. This was a great opportunity to meet and mingle with the people we had been conversing on Facebook and Cruise Critic.
Smooth and easy.
We feel like we are 2 for 2 with our cruises on NCL. Both of them were a blast! NCL is just FUN. The passengers, the staff, the entertainment and the dining choices add up to a great vacation at a reasonable price. Grade: B+
(Just an FYI -â€“ when you are on ships out of Spain, you have to pay a Value Added Tax (VAT) on everything you buy on board -â€“ an additional 18%. Prices are high to start with, then you often have service charges, then you add on VAT and it is quite expensive compared to a Caribbean cruise. So if you are cruising out of Spain, consider and research AND budget for it. And whatever you think you'll spend in Europe, add another 20%. Europe is AMAZING but it's budget-busting.)