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Epic Family Cruise on the Med This was a three generation family cruise undertaken to celebrate our two milestone birth anniversaries – my 75th and my wife’s 70th birthdays that occurred earlier in the year. Happily it also coincided with the pending 50th birthday of our daughter-in-law, so we actually had three reasons to celebrate during the cruise. It also provided us the opportunity to introduce our family to the wonderful world of cruising, so we especially wanted an experience that would be meaningful and enjoyable for our two children, their spouses and our four grandchildren aged 12 through to 18. We had certain limitations in selecting an appropriate cruise. It firstly had to synchronise with school and university holidays giving us a window of only the first ten days or so of July. Secondly, we wanted our family to have an inclusive cruising experience with pre-paid gratuities, speciality dining and beverage packages. Thirdly, it was important that each family unit of four had inter-leading balcony cabins, and finally, we hoped for an itinerary that would introduce first-time cruisers to a number of iconic destinations in the Mediterranean. And all of this at an affordable cost! The scheduled Norwegian Epic cruise from 03 to 10 July of the Western Mediterranean was the only one that ticked all the boxes so we took the plunge and booked with NCL. We did so with some trepidation, primarily because of the size of this mega ship knowing that at the height of the holiday season the ship would be filled to capacity and we were especially concerned about the crowds and inevitable queues at restaurants, bars and entertainment venues and when embarking and disembarking over 4800 passengers at each port of call. But more so, we were worried about the negative reviews we had read on Cruise Critic about the Epic. Our concerns were unfounded and the Epic exceeded our expectations at virtually all levels. Sure, there are a number of (in the greater scheme of things minor) matters one may take issue with but, in our view as relatively experienced cruisers having taken some twenty cruises over the past fifteen or so years with primarily five star cruise companies, the Norwegian Epic offers a far better cruise experience than one would be led to believe when reading some comments on the web. Let’s get our main negative out of the way before proceeding with the review. NCL has a reputation for “nickel and diming” and we believe this is due to their strange practice of not fully disclosing the price of products on sale up front. Whatever one purchases is also subject to an undisclosed tax so one always ends up paying more for a product or service than the prominently published price. A case in point is their cost (ridiculously high in any event) of bottled water which passengers are forced to purchase on board as NCL will not allow bottled water purchased on shore to be brought on board. We purchased a package of 24 one litre bottles at a published cost of $44 only to find that the actual amount charged to our account was $58 – a premium of 32%! The additional costs were a 20% service gratuity and the balance a sales tax. We cannot understand why one has to pay a service gratuity and additional sales tax for purchasing a bottle of water but, if that is NCL’s policy, we believe the company should be upfront with its pricing and not mislead passengers with its non-inclusive pricing policy (applicable to all goods and services). We lodged a complaint about the cost of the bottled water package with Guest Relations but did not get any response whatsoever to our query. The only other minor issue we had was with the high cost of shuttle bus services offered by NCL. Being a mega ship, ships the size of the Epic more often than not, have to berth some distance from the places of interest in the ports visited. Using some form of transportation to get downtown is therefore pretty much a necessity and in such circumstances we believe the ship company should at worst, provided such a shuttle service at cost and not make an additional profit from their passengers. Often if one was prepared to walk 500 meters or so, one could get much cheaper transport from taxis, on-shore tour operators or even public transport. Enough of the negative rants! Much more productive to focus on the positives of the cruise. As already mentioned, we were pleasantly surprised by our Epic experience. Some random observations include: The ship: Clean and well maintained throughout, the Epic is a beautiful mega ship even though it is showing notable signs of wear and tear. We were impressed with the layout of many dining options available on the ship and even though the ship was fully booked, we seldom got the sense of being over crowded. The Epic is a fun boat with the focus on entertainment and activities. Consequently, there are virtually no areas where one can just sit and relax. There is a constant buzz going on, but it would still be nice to find a quiet lounge area where one could just relax and read a book. Initially, the layout and configuration of the vessel can be confusing but once one understands that everything really happens on either the pool deck or on decks 5 and 6 where most of the dining options, theatre, bars, entertainment venues and casino are located, it becomes relatively easy to find ones way around the boat. Elevators are only located at the two ends of the ship making it almost mandatory to walk through the entertainment decks to get anywhere. Unfortunately this means that one cannot escape the smoke ridden casino to access certain venues! NCL should seriously reconsider its practice of permitting smoking in the casino – a practice that has been banned in every other cruise line ship we have sailed. Staterooms: We booked two sets of inter-leading balcony cabins to accommodate each family unit and a mini suite for ourselves. All accommodations were more than adequate with plenty of storage space. The mini suite is slightly larger than the standard balcony cabin but has the same layout – including the strange shower and toilet configuration which takes some getting used to. We understand that this bathroom layout has never been re-emulated on any other NCL ship and will be changed when the Epic undergoes a major refurbishment in the next year or so. Dining: The Epic has multiple dining options. Given the size of the ship, it is advisable to pre book one’s preferred dining venue for dinners especially if one likes to dine during peak hours. Our travel consultant had arranged to pre book dinners for our entire party of ten for each night of the cruise at a selected range of included and speciality dining venues. This helped immeasurably as we never had to queue or wait for a table at any of the selected venues. Food, in terms of both quality and presentation was invariably of a good to excellent standard. The buffet Garden Café was our chosen venue for most breakfasts and lunches. We found the quality and range of options to be surprisingly good for a buffet and would rank the Epic’s buffet restaurant as one of the best we have yet experienced on a cruise line. We had a table served breakfast on two occasions in the Trellis restaurant and, again, were more than satisfied with the fare on offer. For dinners we experimented with a range of venues. We dined at both of the included restaurants (Trellis and Manhattan) which both offer the same menu each evening. The Trellis is a more casual venue while the Manhattan offers a more upmarket experience. Both are well laid out and furnished with attentive service. We found the food to be good and attractively presented. Where the Epic shines is in the variety and quality of its speciality dining options. We experienced three and they all met or exceeded our expectations. As mentioned, we were celebrating three milestone birth anniversaries on this cruise so we chose to celebrate a different birthday at each of the speciality restaurants we selected. At two of these, the Le Bistro and La Cucina, we were even surprised with special birthday cakes delivered to the table even though we had only indicated we were celebrating a milestone birthday once we were seated at our table. A nice, unexpected touch! Food at the French Le Bistro restaurant was exceptional – typically small potions, but beautifully presented and delicious all round. Teppanyaki, the Japanese inspired restaurant was a really fun experience. The delightfully humorous Chef kept us all in fits of laughter as he cooked and served food of surprisingly high quality. We also could not find fault with the service and food quality at the Italian La Cucina restaurant . Our experience at all three speciality restaurants we dined at more than met our expectations. The only marginally disappointing dining experiences were in the Shanghai noodle restaurant and at O’Sheehans Pub where we found the fare to be unappetizing and bland. However, the younger members of the family enjoyed the pub food at O’Sheehans especially the chicken wings and fajitas! Entertainment: A wide range of entertainment options are offered – there is something going on all the time so one can never be bored! The main theatre show “Priscilla of the Desert” was exceptional, equivalent in standard to anything we have previously experienced on board a cruise ship, or even on Broadway or the West End for that matter. None of our party enjoyed the other main theatre production “Burn the Floor”, a sentiment obviously shared by many other passengers as the venue was less than half full even though this show has to be pre-booked. We found it repetitive and frankly boring. On the other hand the nightly “Howl at the Moon” productions in the Headliners Comedy Club were great fun with plenty of good, noisy music and repartee between two dueling pianists. The Beatles Cavern Club show was a bit disappointing but perhaps this was due to the small venue being so overcrowded on the night we attended the show. In addition to the more formal productions, two exceptionally talented singer/pianists entertained passengers at a variety of venues each evening. Good sing along music and good fun. We thought Roberto, the Cruise Director, to be one of the best we have yet had over our years of cruising. Efficient, engaging, informative and understated, sans all the false over the top bonhomie one generally finds with Cruise Directors on cruise ships Bars: There are so many bars situated throughout the ship that one is never in danger of becoming thirsty! We had a beverage package as an included amenity on our booking. This is a virtual necessity on the Epic as the price of liquor is exorbitant and otherwise would be a major dampener for those of us who are inclined to enjoy the occasional tipple or two! Our favoured venue was the Shakers cocktail bar where we can attest they can fix a mean martini! The whole family unit of ten participated in the Ice Bar experience. It was fun but ridiculously overpriced at $20 per person plus tax even though two cocktails are thrown in as part of the deal. Anoraks and gloves are provided but, on reflection, it really is quite masochistic to pay good money to stand in a fridge for an hour! Service: Along with our general experiences with other cruise lines, we found the standard of service on the Epic from staff at all levels (stateroom attendants, waiters, barmen etc.), to be excellent, always available to provide attentive service with a smile. It was evident also that most staff appeared to be proud to be employed by NCL so the company must be doing something right in its employment and training processes. Itinerary: One of the reasons we chose this cruise was to give or family, who had not cruise before, the opportunity of visiting some of the iconic ports of the Western Mediterranean. As we had been to most places on a few occasions beforehand, we did our own thing in all the ports except Palma Mallorca, allowing the rest of the family to explore the ports and adjacent locales unencumbered by their ageing parents! They pre-booked private tours of Pisa/Florence and of Naples/Pompei/Sorrento/Amalfi Coast and explored other destinations on their own. They were more than happy with their experiences and would recommend the private tour option which ends up much cheaper than the equivalent ship excursions and also allows for more flexibility and the option to custom design the experience should one so wish. Our primary objective with this cruise was to give our children and grandchildren a taste of the joys of cruising that we have been privileged to enjoy for so many years. After all the less than complimentary reviews we had read about what to expect on the Epic, we were truly concerned that their experiences on the ship would not be all we wished for. We need not have worried! Did they enjoy the cruise? Hell yeah! So mission accomplished. Indeed, we think we may just have produced another two generations of cruise aficionados!!

Epic Family Cruise on the Med

Norwegian Epic Cruise Review by willden

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Trip Details
Epic Family Cruise on the Med

This was a three generation family cruise undertaken to celebrate our two milestone birth anniversaries – my 75th and my wife’s 70th birthdays that occurred earlier in the year. Happily it also coincided with the pending 50th birthday of our daughter-in-law, so we actually had three reasons to celebrate during the cruise. It also provided us the opportunity to introduce our family to the wonderful world of cruising, so we especially wanted an experience that would be meaningful and enjoyable for our two children, their spouses and our four grandchildren aged 12 through to 18.

We had certain limitations in selecting an appropriate cruise. It firstly had to synchronise with school and university holidays giving us a window of only the first ten days or so of July. Secondly, we wanted our family to have an inclusive cruising experience with pre-paid gratuities, speciality dining and beverage packages. Thirdly, it was important that each family unit of four had inter-leading balcony cabins, and finally, we hoped for an itinerary that would introduce first-time cruisers to a number of iconic destinations in the Mediterranean. And all of this at an affordable cost!

The scheduled Norwegian Epic cruise from 03 to 10 July of the Western Mediterranean was the only one that ticked all the boxes so we took the plunge and booked with NCL. We did so with some trepidation, primarily because of the size of this mega ship knowing that at the height of the holiday season the ship would be filled to capacity and we were especially concerned about the crowds and inevitable queues at restaurants, bars and entertainment venues and when embarking and disembarking over 4800 passengers at each port of call. But more so, we were worried about the negative reviews we had read on Cruise Critic about the Epic.

Our concerns were unfounded and the Epic exceeded our expectations at virtually all levels.

Sure, there are a number of (in the greater scheme of things minor) matters one may take issue with but, in our view as relatively experienced cruisers having taken some twenty cruises over the past fifteen or so years with primarily five star cruise companies, the Norwegian Epic offers a far better cruise experience than one would be led to believe when reading some comments on the web.

Let’s get our main negative out of the way before proceeding with the review. NCL has a reputation for “nickel and diming” and we believe this is due to their strange practice of not fully disclosing the price of products on sale up front. Whatever one purchases is also subject to an undisclosed tax so one always ends up paying more for a product or service than the prominently published price. A case in point is their cost (ridiculously high in any event) of bottled water which passengers are forced to purchase on board as NCL will not allow bottled water purchased on shore to be brought on board. We purchased a package of 24 one litre bottles at a published cost of $44 only to find that the actual amount charged to our account was $58 – a premium of 32%! The additional costs were a 20% service gratuity and the balance a sales tax. We cannot understand why one has to pay a service gratuity and additional sales tax for purchasing a bottle of water but, if that is NCL’s policy, we believe the company should be upfront with its pricing and not mislead passengers with its non-inclusive pricing policy (applicable to all goods and services). We lodged a complaint about the cost of the bottled water package with Guest Relations but did not get any response whatsoever to our query.

The only other minor issue we had was with the high cost of shuttle bus services offered by NCL. Being a mega ship, ships the size of the Epic more often than not, have to berth some distance from the places of interest in the ports visited. Using some form of transportation to get downtown is therefore pretty much a necessity and in such circumstances we believe the ship company should at worst, provided such a shuttle service at cost and not make an additional profit from their passengers. Often if one was prepared to walk 500 meters or so, one could get much cheaper transport from taxis, on-shore tour operators or even public transport.

Enough of the negative rants! Much more productive to focus on the positives of the cruise. As already mentioned, we were pleasantly surprised by our Epic experience. Some random observations include:

The ship: Clean and well maintained throughout, the Epic is a beautiful mega ship even though it is showing notable signs of wear and tear. We were impressed with the layout of many dining options available on the ship and even though the ship was fully booked, we seldom got the sense of being over crowded. The Epic is a fun boat with the focus on entertainment and activities. Consequently, there are virtually no areas where one can just sit and relax. There is a constant buzz going on, but it would still be nice to find a quiet lounge area where one could just relax and read a book. Initially, the layout and configuration of the vessel can be confusing but once one understands that everything really happens on either the pool deck or on decks 5 and 6 where most of the dining options, theatre, bars, entertainment venues and casino are located, it becomes relatively easy to find ones way around the boat. Elevators are only located at the two ends of the ship making it almost mandatory to walk through the entertainment decks to get anywhere. Unfortunately this means that one cannot escape the smoke ridden casino to access certain venues! NCL should seriously reconsider its practice of permitting smoking in the casino – a practice that has been banned in every other cruise line ship we have sailed.

Staterooms: We booked two sets of inter-leading balcony cabins to accommodate each family unit and a mini suite for ourselves. All accommodations were more than adequate with plenty of storage space. The mini suite is slightly larger than the standard balcony cabin but has the same layout – including the strange shower and toilet configuration which takes some getting used to. We understand that this bathroom layout has never been re-emulated on any other NCL ship and will be changed when the Epic undergoes a major refurbishment in the next year or so.

Dining: The Epic has multiple dining options. Given the size of the ship, it is advisable to pre book one’s preferred dining venue for dinners especially if one likes to dine during peak hours. Our travel consultant had arranged to pre book dinners for our entire party of ten for each night of the cruise at a selected range of included and speciality dining venues. This helped immeasurably as we never had to queue or wait for a table at any of the selected venues. Food, in terms of both quality and presentation was invariably of a good to excellent standard. The buffet Garden Café was our chosen venue for most breakfasts and lunches. We found the quality and range of options to be surprisingly good for a buffet and would rank the Epic’s buffet restaurant as one of the best we have yet experienced on a cruise line. We had a table served breakfast on two occasions in the Trellis restaurant and, again, were more than satisfied with the fare on offer.

For dinners we experimented with a range of venues. We dined at both of the included restaurants (Trellis and Manhattan) which both offer the same menu each evening. The Trellis is a more casual venue while the Manhattan offers a more upmarket experience. Both are well laid out and furnished with attentive service. We found the food to be good and attractively presented.

Where the Epic shines is in the variety and quality of its speciality dining options. We experienced three and they all met or exceeded our expectations. As mentioned, we were celebrating three milestone birth anniversaries on this cruise so we chose to celebrate a different birthday at each of the speciality restaurants we selected. At two of these, the Le Bistro and La Cucina, we were even surprised with special birthday cakes delivered to the table even though we had only indicated we were celebrating a milestone birthday once we were seated at our table. A nice, unexpected touch! Food at the French Le Bistro restaurant was exceptional – typically small potions, but beautifully presented and delicious all round. Teppanyaki, the Japanese inspired restaurant was a really fun experience. The delightfully humorous Chef kept us all in fits of laughter as he cooked and served food of surprisingly high quality. We also could not find fault with the service and food quality at the Italian La Cucina restaurant . Our experience at all three speciality restaurants we dined at more than met our expectations.

The only marginally disappointing dining experiences were in the Shanghai noodle restaurant and at O’Sheehans Pub where we found the fare to be unappetizing and bland. However, the younger members of the family enjoyed the pub food at O’Sheehans especially the chicken wings and fajitas!

Entertainment: A wide range of entertainment options are offered – there is something going on all the time so one can never be bored! The main theatre show “Priscilla of the Desert” was exceptional, equivalent in standard to anything we have previously experienced on board a cruise ship, or even on Broadway or the West End for that matter. None of our party enjoyed the other main theatre production “Burn the Floor”, a sentiment obviously shared by many other passengers as the venue was less than half full even though this show has to be pre-booked. We found it repetitive and frankly boring. On the other hand the nightly “Howl at the Moon” productions in the Headliners Comedy Club were great fun with plenty of good, noisy music and repartee between two dueling pianists. The Beatles Cavern Club show was a bit disappointing but perhaps this was due to the small venue being so overcrowded on the night we attended the show.

In addition to the more formal productions, two exceptionally talented singer/pianists entertained passengers at a variety of venues each evening. Good sing along music and good fun.

We thought Roberto, the Cruise Director, to be one of the best we have yet had over our years of cruising. Efficient, engaging, informative and understated, sans all the false over the top bonhomie one generally finds with Cruise Directors on cruise ships

Bars: There are so many bars situated throughout the ship that one is never in danger of becoming thirsty! We had a beverage package as an included amenity on our booking. This is a virtual necessity on the Epic as the price of liquor is exorbitant and otherwise would be a major dampener for those of us who are inclined to enjoy the occasional tipple or two! Our favoured venue was the Shakers cocktail bar where we can attest they can fix a mean martini!

The whole family unit of ten participated in the Ice Bar experience. It was fun but ridiculously overpriced at $20 per person plus tax even though two cocktails are thrown in as part of the deal. Anoraks and gloves are provided but, on reflection, it really is quite masochistic to pay good money to stand in a fridge for an hour!

Service: Along with our general experiences with other cruise lines, we found the standard of service on the Epic from staff at all levels (stateroom attendants, waiters, barmen etc.), to be excellent, always available to provide attentive service with a smile. It was evident also that most staff appeared to be proud to be employed by NCL so the company must be doing something right in its employment and training processes.

Itinerary: One of the reasons we chose this cruise was to give or family, who had not cruise before, the opportunity of visiting some of the iconic ports of the Western Mediterranean. As we had been to most places on a few occasions beforehand, we did our own thing in all the ports except Palma Mallorca, allowing the rest of the family to explore the ports and adjacent locales unencumbered by their ageing parents! They pre-booked private tours of Pisa/Florence and of Naples/Pompei/Sorrento/Amalfi Coast and explored other destinations on their own. They were more than happy with their experiences and would recommend the private tour option which ends up much cheaper than the equivalent ship excursions and also allows for more flexibility and the option to custom design the experience should one so wish.

Our primary objective with this cruise was to give our children and grandchildren a taste of the joys of cruising that we have been privileged to enjoy for so many years. After all the less than complimentary reviews we had read about what to expect on the Epic, we were truly concerned that their experiences on the ship would not be all we wished for. We need not have worried! Did they enjoy the cruise? Hell yeah! So mission accomplished. Indeed, we think we may just have produced another two generations of cruise aficionados!!
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Cabin Review

Mini-Suite with Balcony
Cabin MD 9081
Mini suite, slightly larger than a standard balcony stateroom with a nice size balcony. Comfortable with more than enough storage space. Unfortunately, directly opposite a frequently used service door which slammed constantly - very noisy and disturbing. Reported the concern but only fixed after a couple of days,
Deck 10 Inside Cabins, Balcony Cabins, Suite Cabins