Some background: My husband and I are in our late 20’s/early 30’s. We have been on 5 Disney Cruises sailing on each of their ships at least once and 1 cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Majesty of the Seas. Disney is the line that we took ... Read More
Some background: My husband and I are in our late 20’s/early 30’s. We have been on 5 Disney Cruises sailing on each of their ships at least once and 1 cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Majesty of the Seas. Disney is the line that we took our first cruise on. We also got engaged, married, and took our honeymoon all on Disney cruises. It is safe to say that Disney cruises hold a very special place for us because along with many memories, Disney cruises excel in almost all areas that are important for us. For this reason, I will mostly be comparing what we experienced on the Norwegian Epic to DCL. We were shocked that this Norwegian cruise met Disney standards in many areas and even, dare I say because I feel like Walt himself is turning in his grave, exceeded what we have come to expect on a Disney Cruise. Of course, there were things that we did not love about this Norwegian Cruise, which I will get to. We also sailed with my mother and father-in-law who have been on the Norwegian Jade plus close to 50 Disney cruises (you can see who we got it from). Also, our trip was booked through a timeshare and for this reason, we did not have any “free at sea” offers and we also were unable to book our rooms close to each other.
Boarding: We had a boarding time of 11:30 – noon. The longest wait that we experienced during the entire process was waiting in the line of cars to get into the parking garage. After that, the process was absolutely seamless. From the time that we got out of the car to the time that we walked onto the ship was about 20-25 minutes. I do have to make a note that part of what I love about DCL cruises is that, on each of their ships, you enter directly into the atrium with a beautiful chandelier, grand staircase, and statue of the ship’s mascot. It seems that on all other ships, you enter onto the deck and then your first introduction to the ship is a view of the elevators which is not nearly as grand of an entrance.
Room: My husband and I and his parents booked 2 standard inside cabins. Their room was on deck 14 forward and ours on deck 13 midship. My in-laws room was located between the 2 sets of staircases and we were concerned that the room would be loud, however they reported that their room was nice and quiet. We were very pleased with our room. I thought that the size was perfect for the 2 of us. We felt spoiled coming from the Majesty of the Seas where the room was so small that you could not get off of both sides of the bed and my husband would have the crawl over me if he needed to get out in the middle of the night. The bathroom was a little strange and I would not want to sail in that room with anyone except for my husband, but it made no difference since it was just the two of us. It was nice that the different floor plan provided for, it seems, a slightly bigger shower than we have seen on other cruise ships although the round tub/shower on DCL is still my favorite. I was really impressed by the bed. It was nice and firm and very comfortable. We could hardly even tell that the bed was 2 twins pushed together. The pillows were full and soft. I do wish that the comforter was a little thicker or that they provided an extra blanket. I was disappointed with the TV. We do not spend much time in our room during cruises, but we do enjoy watching a movie before bed and there was very little to choose from. The TV was also so high that you could not see the screen well when lying on the bed. Our room steward, Bernard, was awesome. One day we slept in until 11am and I thought that we wouldn’t have our room attended to until that night, but less than 2 hours later, it was spotless! Whenever he spotted us in the hallway he always greeted us by name. In fact, we never passed one stateroom host without a smile and greeting.
Food: There are so many places to dine on this ship! We visited many of them, but did not have time to go to them all. We missed Manhattan room, Tepanyaki/sushi bar, and Moderno. We had the 3-night dining package and so we dined at the specialty restaurants 3 nights and then at the complementary restaurants for the remainder of the time. Overall, our entire group was extremely impressed with our dining experience. The food exceeded our expectations. We never once had to wait for a table even at the complementary restaurants where we did not have a reservation. I was a little disappointed with the service. While all of the service was very quick, the wait staff was not very friendly or engaging. I expected some better, more specialized service in the specialty restaurants, but that did not happen. It was pretty clear to me that they did not want to be there and were just going through the motions. We had made reservations for 3 specialty restaurants before getting on the ship, but did change the reservations twice while on-board. This was done easily by either calling the reservation desk on the stateroom phone or stopping by the reservation table right outside the buffet.
Buffet - The buffet was great and we dined there for several breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. This is one area that I think that the Norwegian Epic excels above DCL. The food was fresh and tasty. We loved that the buffet was open for dinner. On Disney, the buffet turns into a sit-down restaurant at night. It was nice to have something quick and easy for dinner without having to rely on just hamburgers and hotdogs. We also loved the small buffet that was open for several hours between lunch and dinner and also late at night until 11:30. My husband and I quickly developed a love for their cookies, especially the oatmeal raison! A downside is that the buffet did tend to get busy and the lines for the main rotating dishes would get very long at times! We learned to get there early. The buffet was scheduled to open at 5:30pm for dinner, but we noticed that they would usually open about 10-15 minutes early and so we made a habit to arrive around 5:15pm and get through the line and grab a table before it got crazy.
Taste: We dined at Taste once for lunch and once for dinner and were pleased with our meals. Service was quick but not overly friendly. I had the soda package and I had heard that it was impossible to get refills due to the wait staff being so busy, but I did not find this to be true. I was brought a new soda 3 times during dinner without having to ask. We did have an unpleasant interaction with the hostess at Taste during Breakfast, There had been a time change the night before and we thought that we had set our clocks appropriately, but had not. When we arrived, the kitchen was closed. While the mistake was our fault, I do not think the level of rudeness that we experienced from the hostess was called for. While we did not experience breakfast at this restaurant, but my in-laws did and spoke highly of it.
O’Sheehans: Dined here twice and my husband and I were both underwhelmed. Service was OK. The first time I dined there, I ordered a hamburger. A waiter came by shortly after with a tray of food and asked if I had ordered wings. I told him no, that I had ordered a hamburger. He then took a burger and fries from his tray and placed it in front of me. I removed the top bun and rearranged some of the toppings which were falling out of the burger. A few seconds later, another waiter came up and grabbed my plate and said “no, that one isn’t yours”. I called after him to tell him that I had already touched it, but he was already on the other side of the restaurant giving it to another customer. My burger arrived a short time later. The second time, we had finished our entrees and waited about 25 minutes for our desserts. We could not find our waiter so we asked another waiter who was passing. He apologized and delivered our desserts in a matter of minutes. The food was alright, but not very flavorful. The best was the brownie cheesecake with caramel marshmallows.
Shanghai/Noodle bar: We dined here on the last night of our trip. We were pleased. Service was quick and accurate. The food was hot and tasty.
La Cucina: Our party had one dinner here on the first night and we were impressed. The food was delicious and the atmosphere was nice and quiet.
Le Bistro: This dinner was both hit and miss. Service was pretty good and the food was presented beautifully. My husband ordered the mussels for his appetizer and they were terrible. I did not taste them, but both he and his father agreed that they did not taste fresh and almost tasted as though they had gone bad. My mother-in-law got the sole for her entrée and although the taste was good, it was so overcooked that she needed a knife to cut it. The coffee that we were served after dinner was gross. We all agreed that it tasted terribly burnt. Not one of us finished our cups. There were however several dishes here which we enjoyed. The lamb that I ordered for an entrée was delicious and was more tender than the sole! I think that this was the meal that we were most disappointed in. The atmosphere was really nice at the beginning of the dinner, but it was ruined a little when we could here songs such as “YMCA” booming from the atrium. Also, I think that the bowling alley may be above Le Bistro, because several times, there were loud noises from overheard. Side note, this is no fault of the restaurant, but I was annoyed that at the table behind us, there was a young woman who was dining by herself. I guess she got lonely because she took out her phone and proceeded to hold a 15 minute Skype conversation at the table while she ate. Also, this is one of the 2 restaurants on the boat with a dress code (the other being the Manhattan room). It is not strict, but they do require pants (although nice jeans will suffice).
Cagneys: Our whole group agreed that this was our favorite meal of the cruise. We each commented that our steaks were excellent. The appetizers, sides, and desserts were all perfect complements. My husband ordered the Tomahawk and said that it was cooked absolutely perfectly and is among the best steaks he has even had. My prime rib was also amazing! Some in our group even went as far to say that their meal was better than Palo which is a pay extra restaurant on DCL and my favorite restaurant of all time. I do not think I can go quite that far!
Entertainment: I actually think that the nighttime entertainment was what really set this cruise apart. On Disney Cruises, there is never much that goes on after 9pm or so at night. Since many of the passengers are families with young kids, nighttime entertainment is not Disney’s focus. On this cruise, my husband and I were out past midnight for 5 of the 7 nights which we loved! We really enjoyed the comedian. I was a little disappointed with the “newlywed/not so newlywed” game. This is always my favorite show on a cruise and part of what makes it so fun is the host. On the Epic, the cruise director hosted this show and while he was very energetic, he just was not funny and sounded scripted. Also, instead of having the couples do a funny or embarrassing task to win their place on the stage, they just drew the names from a bucket which meant that the couples were not nearly as outgoing as they usually are. We enjoyed some of the daytime entertainment such as a short beginners Chinese class. It was a little disappointing how many of the daytime entertainment activities involve an extra charge. They had a painting class, but when we went to check it out it was $30 per person. Plus, the example was not that impressive to begin with. As far as the big productions, we did not go to the Cirque dinner show as there were so many other places to eat for free, although I did hear good things about the show. We went to Burn the Floor on our second night. The dancers were world class and absolutely amazing, but the show was kind of weird as there was no story line at all. Just, what felt like random costumes and sets. I still very much enjoyed the dancing. My absolute favorite show was Pricilla Queen of the Dessert. I loved it so much that I went twice. I made sure to sit right up at the front the second time because I wanted to see the detail of the costumes. This show was hilarious and top notch. Side note, the second time I went, all of the reservations were sold out. I decided to try and go anyways and arrived about 15 minutes before the show. I was let in immediately and there were plenty of seats although I think some of my luck had to do with the fact that it was a later show at 10pm. We also attended the Dueling Pianos show in the Headliners comedy theater twice and it was awesome. The crowd was energetic and the musicians were talented and entertaining. I do wish that they provided some additional bar staff because the room was packed. There were about 2-3 servers running around like crazy, but it took quite a while to get any drinks.
Tortola: Getting onto the island was a breeze. Literally just walked straight off. We strolled around and explored the shops which were not too interesting. We found a martini cigar bar at the end of the small shopping area on the right called Aromas. We spent a pleasant few hours relaxing here and enjoyed using the free internet to check in on our puppies back home. My husband ordered a few beers and a cigar and I had 2 dessert martinis. I was happy to find this place because when I went to order a dessert martini on the ship, they were $18! The martinis here were a reasonable $10. From there we tried to find a book store, but were unsuccessful. Our exploration did lead to us stumbling upon an area with a great view of the ship. To get there you can just walk to the left once you get off of the boat and through the parking lot until you get to a rocky beach area.
St. Thomas: Again, getting off the ship was quick. St Thomas has many more shops, but after we had been through 25% of the stores, we didn’t find anything new. Same bags, magnets, shirts ect. We then took the skyride and got an amazing view of the island and all of the ships in port. We wished that we had done this earlier and had time to sit and enjoy a drink while taking in the view and fresh air, but unfortunately, we had to be back on the boat by 2pm.
Great Stirrup Cay: This is Norwegians private island and does require passengers to tender. We realized on the 3rd day of the cruise that you have to make a tender reservation if you want to get off of the boat early. This was done easily by call the box office on the stateroom phone. I have never made a tender reservation before and was surprised that you are assigned a letter and not a time. Due to this, we did not know when we would be getting off of the ship and had to pay attention to the announcements. The tendering took longer that I expected however this was mostly due to rough seas which is obviously outside of the cruise line’s control. The process was very organized which I appreciated. There was no pushing and shoving with people skipping in line and not knowing where to go. We hung out in the atrium and waiting until our letter was called before heading to the theater. From there they released us row by row to board the tender. The island was beautiful and we were thoroughly impressed. We have been to two other private islands including Disney’s Castaway Cay and Royal Caribbean’s Cocoa Cay and if we had to choose where to spend a day, I think I would pick Great Stirrup Cay. The island was well laid out. My mother in law walks with a cane and she had no difficulty navigating the island. Cocoa Cay on the other hand was underdeveloped with lots of unmarked dirt paths. We were impressed with the availability of chairs and plenty in the shade. I loved that on the bridge that takes you to the cabanas (which looked amazing), there is a nice view of the ship. My husband and I went for a short swim. The water was cold, but enjoyable once we got in. I was glad that I brought my swim socks which have thin rubber soles as some of the beach area was a bit rocky. The island buffet was pretty good with a good selection. The line to get back onto the tender was long, but moved quickly once boarding began.
Disembarkation: We decided to put our luggage out the night before. If you do want to have your baggage taken off for you and also want to get out early, make sure to pick up your tags several days before the cruise ends as the early ones always go quickly. The early morning was a little stressful as my husband did not sleep well and decided to go explore the ship around 4:30 am. Que the panicking wife when both myself and my father in law searched the ship for an hour and could not find him. We eventually found him and I warned him that under penalty of serious bodily injury, he is not to do that to me ever again. After an early breakfast at the buffet we gathered our things and sat in the atrium lounge until our tag color was called. We walked straight off, gathered our luggage, and were waiting in the line for customs within about 20 minutes. We had a little hiccup when we realized that our stateroom host had not left a customs form in our room and we had completely forgotten about it until we saw everyone else pulling there’s out. We easily found a new form before getting in line and were in the car heading home 15 minutes later.
Overall Impression: Obviously choosing a cruise really depends on what you are looking for. My husband and I agree that we have enjoyed this cruise the most. While the level of service was not quite what we have come to expect on Disney, the combination of the entertainment, food options, and price difference really set the Norwegian epic apart. We even booked a credit for a future cruise on board and hope to sail on the Norwegian Escape next December. Read Less