Transatlantic Repositioning Cruise from Barcelona to Miami
The Epic when you first set eyes on it at the dockside certainly takes your breath away with its size dominating everything else around. It has 15 decks accessible to the majority of cruisers with decks 16 and 17 being specifically earmarked for those in private suites and staterooms.
The entertainment on board was plentiful ranging from theatre and circus entertainment,piano and guitar evenings to the Casino which unfortunately for those who did not smoke was practically out of bounds. The entertainment in general was well performed but whether it was entertaining depended on your own individual likes and dislikes.
The pool deck on deck 15 was the main focus of attention during the day and here there were plenty of deck chairs to cater for everyone. Entertainment on this deck was excellent with 6 Jacuzzis`s and 2 pools. The only downside to the pools however was that neither was long or wide enough to cater for lap swimming - a minor criticism given that the 3 excellent water slides and climbing wall more than made up for this.
Service throughout the ship was generally of the standard you come to expect on cruise ships and here I come to the 2 exceptions which left me with a sour taste and a public relations disaster for NCL. The first problem arose before we even boarded the ship. As we prepared to check in non US citizens were asked to produce their ESTA form. Considering that at no point in any documentation from NCL was it stated that you were physically required to bring a hard copy of this document it was not surprising to see a queue forming which quite soon built into a 3-4 hour waiting time as passengers who did not have their form with them were redirected to another area with(would you believe it) only 4 laptops and a printer to access the Homeland Security website. Passport information had to be keyed in in order to print out the physical evidence that was now required for check-in. On completing this exercise you were then directed back to the original check-in desk and inevitable queue again. Anyone who has flown to the USA knows that a hard copy of the ESTA approval is not necessary for a flight and why NCL did not pre warn passengers of this requirement is a mystery.
The second exception relates to the service charge which NCL automatically add to your on-board account at a rate of $12pp per day at your discretion. In practice the company puts the responsibility on the passenger to have this charge adjusted or removed from your account. To do this I found you have to go through an embarrassing interrogation with Guest Services at the end of the cruise in front of a queue of people with the same thought in mind and asked to explain your reasons before they accede to your requests. One woman in particular could not cope with this interrogation and turned away in tears before a male passenger who had witnessed her trauma took her back to the desk and demanded that her request be granted. It was my impression that single women experienced a harder time than men in this respect. In any case this subject of automatic gratuity is a very emotive issue and while it remains it will be a bad PR exercise for NCL.