Background - We joined Norwegian Epic in Barcelona on 25th September having spent 3 nights at the Bacardi Apartments on Las Ramblas. We are from the UK with about 30 cruises having tried most of the major lines, this was our 7th time with NCL. Maybe not the most luxurious line but we have always been very satisfied with the Jewel, Gem & Pearl and consider NCL to offer good value for money. This time we travelled with our family from Malta on their 2nd cruise.
The Ship - The Epic was everything we expected and overall exceeded our expectations in many ways. We all considered the inside cabins absolutely fine although perhaps a little smaller than on some ships. We had no problem with the separate shower and toilet, actually we thougt it was a good idea, it worked fine for us and we could not see what the fuss is all about. There were a few minor issues - the light in our daughter's cabin stopped working and was not fixed for over 24 hours (son-in-law 'mended' it with cocktail sticks), our granddaughter's TV continually stuck and she could not access her onboard account on it. The balcony cabins looked quite a bit bigger, we are not balcony people but our family tried to pay to uograde to a balcony on check-in but none were available. The ship did seem full but not too many children this time of year, only really the under 5s. It did seem busy at time, noteably trying to get a lift after lifeboat drill and in the Garden Cafe on sea days, but we did not experience too many queues for anything.
We ate most breakfast and lunchtimes in the Great Outdoors. Unlike the other ships this is not aft but midships by the main pools and it worked very well, it was especially nice to be able to get water, tea or coffee or an ice cream without having to get dressed and go inside.
In the evenings we preferred the Manhattan Room to Taste and thought the meals in both were in general of a higher standard than we had experienced on the Pearl last October (which were very good, just we felt they had upped things a bit on the Epic). We also ate at Cagneys, which was excellent as usual, and went to the Cirque Dreams. That is a difficult one to comment on as everyone had different expectations. We thought the show was excellent, the food less so. Trio of starters is not impressive. The surf and turf main course was OK but quite small (this was the only evening we felt the need to hit the late night buffet). In our party we had one person who cannot eat shellfish and he got an extra half piece of steak in place of the prawns which was fine. Granddaughter is vegetarian and had mushroom ravioli and her dinner looked awful, just 3small ravioli on a plate with some sauce. The trio of desserts was the best part, very nice and beautifully presented. One point of note is that nearly all of the seating is "premium" IE $30, the only $20 seats are the few booths around the very edge under the balcony. The standard seats were all booked up for all thelate shows by the time we got on board so if you only want to spend $20 book online. I think the view from the cheaper seats would be OK just a little further away from the action. Certainly the dinner show idea is good and no doubt the way of the future, but I think NCL still need to do a little work on the diner side. The show was,as I said, fabulous and very fast action which made it seem rather chaotic with waiters trying to serve around the acts.
Entertainment - we saw the Legends concert which was good but only 3 acts - Elton John, Shakira & Whitney Houston - the posters gave the impression there would be more. Blue Man Group - what can I say - 4 of our group thought it was absolutely awful - a good many people left during the show despite being asked not to move, to be honest had we been on our own at the end of a row we probably would have slipped out too, but then 90% of the audience seemed to be having a whale of a time, obviously we do not share their sense of humour. There were funny moments but I certainly would not want to see them again. On the other hand Howl at the Moon were quite amusing, we went a second time but a lot of the material was repeated, but it was nice just to be able to wander in. I did not particularly like having to be organised and book shows in advance, I know it has to be done that way to accomodate the sheer number of people but I must say I prefer the traditional one main show per night - less thinking involved ! We were excited to see the pianist Tommy McPhee listed as he had been a star of a previous cruise but did not seem to have much of a following on the Epic, the bar he played in above the casino was nearly empty each time we walked through. To be honest I am surprised to say that the entertainment was a but of a 'miss' on the Epic despite the hype. We found plenty to do as a family but had we been travelling as a couple I think we would have struggled to fill the evenings as I think we saw all the shows but still had time to spare. However, the casino was lovely, loads of low value slots, we did not find it smoky at all and it is huge - you could easily forget you are at sea, it is more like Las Vegas.
Wine - During our stay in Barcelona we had visited the Friexenet Cava factory - it is 45 minutes by train from Placa Catalunya and a really good afternoon out of the city. We had purchased a 1.5 litre bottle of sparkling wine for each evening of the cruise (13 euros each)and printed out NCL's alcohol policy (from their website) stating that corkage is $15 per bottle "regardless of size". The waiter on our 1st evening did not seem to be aware of this and tried to charge more but soon corrected it and we had no further problems, it worked out to be a good deal for us. As widely reported on CC there is no hand luggage scan when embarking (apart from the scan by Barcelona based staff in the terminal) so we just walked on with our wine. We could of course have just drunk it in our cabins but were very happy to pay the corkage for the service in the restaurants. The waiters just gave us a bill to sign for the $15 each evening, it was no problem at all.
Embarkation/Disembarkation - Both were efficient and simple. We joined the ship using the port bus from near the Colon statue at the bottom of Las Ramblas (2 euros each) and pleased we had not taken a taxi as there was a major traffic jam getting into the port. On leaving, 3 of our family took a taxi straight to the airport which cost them 40 euros, quite a bit more than we had paid in Barcelona previously. NCL were offering a transfer for $15 each so for a couple not in a hurry that would be a good deal. Our flight was later in the evening so we walked to Barcelonetta for a few hours on the beach and watched an airshow that happened to be taking place. Later we walked back, up Las Ramblas, past Placa Catalunya to Passieg de Gracia station (not the metro station you get to first, the RENFE station a couple of blocks further up). Overall that was a good walk, took well over an hour, pulling our case, which was an OK way to kill some time. We took the train rather than the Aerobus from Placa Catalunya because we had some T10 tickets left and knew we could use them on the train. However, I could not believe there is no lift/elevator at Passieg de Gracia station, so I had to carry our case, hand luggage and DH's mobility scooter down several flights of stairs to the platform. Apart from that the train was fine, took about 30 minutes and as we were flying from terminal 2 we could walk to the terminal without the shuttle bus like T1. However, Easyjet have their own terminal ('C') at the far end of T1, we had to walk all the way there to check in, the special assistance lady then walked us all the way back to the train entrance to go up in the lift, then all the way back through the airport past all the departure gates to our gate back at the far end ! That took nearly an hour of walking from check in to gate - after our long walks earlier in the day I was pretty tired !
Accessibility - DH was using a small folding mobility scooter and had no problems at all on the ship, everywhere was completely accessible, NCL sent a letter to the cabin explaining access routes for some of the speciality restaurants etc. As usual the lifts were often full but they are large and we rarely waited long.
Ports - it is a classic Western Med itinerary.
Livorno we had pre-arranged a car from Hertz which was brought to the ship for us, not cheap at 140 euros but much easier than the public transport route. We went first into Livorno to the market (the Hertz lady thought we were mad but we always pick up a few bargains there) then headed out to Pisa. It was an easy drive, although our SatNav was not very accurate and we seemed to get caught up in Pisa airport. We had hoped to visit Lucca but our time was running down, so that is one for next time.
Civitavecchia - we took the 8.59 train into Rome, getting off at San Pietro where we just caught the last part of the Holy Father's public audience, an event we had attended in the past by obtaining tickets in advance, however this time the square was only about half full so plenty of room for everyone. Just be aware (we were not) that this means that St Peters Basilica does not open until 1pm on a Wednesday. We had all been there before so wandered around some other areas (Piazza Navona, the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain etc) before taking the metro (included in the BIRG ticket for 9 euros) back to the Vatican later in the day. We generally get back on the train at Termini and have known it to be very crowded but this time (both ways) there were plenty of seats despite several large cruise ships in port. A lot of people seemed to be taking the cruise express train, maybe this freed up the local trains ? Accessibility on the trains is a bit hit and miss - we had prebooked the 'lift' via Trenitalia but it turned out there is still no lift at Civitavecchia, leaving the train happened to be on the platform near the station building, at the other places an employee walked DH & his scooter over the lines.
Naples - the family took the Circumvesuviana train to Pompeii, we walked around Naples, finding some nice shopping streets close to the cathedral by bearing left just inland from the port. We did not buy much but wandered around for several hours, this area seemed much nicer than the main street we had found before by turning right out of the port. It was a pleasant surprise that siesta did not seem to happen, nearly everything stayed open well into the afternoon.
Mallorca - Palma cruise port was complete chaos with long queues for both the public & tourist buses and for taxis. We walked to the Porto Pi shopping centre (turn left at the main road outside the port gates and follow around the coast for about 10 minutes or so) and took a taxi from there to Palma cathedral (8 euros for 4 of us - we had lost son-in-law to the marina and beach by then) but the public bus stops there too and this was before the port so would be a good place to get on. Palma city is lovely, hundreds of little craft type shops and good deals on shoes & clothes. We easily spent the rest of the afternoon there and again the shops stayed open. Only trouble on a Saturday afternoon was that the buses back to port seemed few and far between - for 4 us a taxi was not much more than the bus so it was fine. We were just sorry to have to return to the ship and prepare to leave.