As Napoleon once sailed off to St Helena, the Norwegian Epic sailed off to exile in Barcelona, far from the American passengers that never appreciated her interesting curves, minimal outdoor access and unique bathrooms. Perhaps the ... Read More
As Napoleon once sailed off to St Helena, the Norwegian Epic sailed off to exile in Barcelona, far from the American passengers that never appreciated her interesting curves, minimal outdoor access and unique bathrooms. Perhaps the Europeans will be kinder, as she is a French ship, after all.
My wife and I had an aft-facing accessible balcony cabin for the 11-day crossing from Miami to Barcelona. We had done the exact same crossing last year, except last year, we were in the Haven with my Mom. Our stateroom this trip was nice, with a very large balcony (especially compared to the one we had on the Norwegian Getaway in February.) We had two chairs on the balcony, and our cabin steward found us an additional lounge chair after my wife asked.
This was a strange voyage. There was almost a "Dead Ship Sailing" vibe to me, although the lower-level staff were excellent, as always. I'm pretty sure most of the passengers were drawn by the price, rather than the ship or itinerary - there were some really cheap rates on this cruise. I heard the average age on the ship was 59, so there were not a lot of kids. In fact, I was younger than the average age, and my grandkids think I'm old.
There was only one port stop, in Funchal, Madeira. It is a beautiful island, and we did one of the Norwegian excursions, to Eira Do Serrado & Monte. It was a good tour, and riding the cable car down to Funchal was a fun (and scenic) ride.
I think we saw the cruise director once, other than at the CC M&G. His assistants seemed to run all the events we attended. It was the same with the Hotel Director, who we had sailed with before - twice - and who had been much more visible on the earlier cruises. The Cruise Consultant was the first one who managed to convince me that I didn't want cruise rewards, because he was just awful at presentations. For example, I wouldn't use the perceived faults of the ship you are on as a selling point for future cruises. Also, for the "new ships" presentation, the Breakaway is hardly a new ship and the Getaway has been sailing for over a year. I would have preferred more information on the Breakaway-Plus class.
Norwegian Epic was designed with many smaller venues, instead of one large one, but that meant the venues were packed for many events, because there just wasn't much going on. Even though the ship was not full, some events seemed overflowing, especially anything in the Atrium. Every afternoon, they would show something on the big screen in the Atrium, and it was standing-room only. My recollection from the crossing last year was there were more entertainment options each evening.
There were very few activities during the day, but the average age was above mine, so most people read or played bridge. I was a bit disappointed there weren't more tastings scheduled. I have a feeling this was an age group that either Norwegian or the crew assumed could entertain themselves - but there was more going on last year, and it was the same route.
On this trip, we weren't able to book any entertainment until after we were on-board, which meant that I started out with the feeling that they were making it up as they went along. We knew from CC postings that Blue Man Group was gone (a major disappointment for me) but we had no idea what would be available until we boarded. This is very poor planning, and a possible reason it was such a cheap cruise.
We had Nadine the hypnotist (same as last year's crossing), a couple of comics, Second City (not their A-team), Howl at the Moon (rarely scheduled since other events also use that space), a couple of bands that would be rated "good enough for a cruise ship" on American Idol or The Voice, and Burn the Floor (near the end of the cruise.) We skipped Oh, What a Night since we've seen it on two other cruises in the past year or so. The band in the blues/jazz club was not a blues or jazz band.
Senior staff were much more stealthy than usual - I think I only saw the Captain once besides the standard photo op session. He made daily announcements, unless it was delegated to the duty officer or just skipped. I don’t really need the announcements, but I miss them when they don’t occur. If nothing else, if you hear it in bed, you’ve overslept.
We have learned over the years that there are Captains that are ambassadors for the line, and there are Captains that drive the boat. Our Captain was a driver. So it goes.
This does have a direct influence on the rest of the crew. If the Captain is out and about all the time, everyone else better be, as well. This makes for a very visible senior staff and crew. If the Captain stays on the bridge, why leave your office?
We had the UDP included with our fare, so we ate at almost all the specialty restaurants. Le Bistro is still my favorite. Cagney's was nice, but the level of service seemed below what I am accustomed to receiving. Teppanyaki is always fun, but I don't think I could eat there every night. The Osso Buco at La Cucina may be the best meat dish on the ship, except for the steak for two dish at Le Bistro. (It always confounded me that the best steak is not at the steakhouse.)
The one issue with the speciality restaurants is that a multitude of people on the cruise had the UDP included, so the speciality restaurants were not necessarily packed, but seemed busier than usual. The staff in Moderno and Cagney's seemed distracted - as if they weren't used to handling the number of tables. It was interesting to contrast their attitudes and activity with O'Sheehan's staff who are used to getting slammed from time to time. When O'Sheehan's ran out of burgers when all of us got back from Madeira all at once, the staff just checked back every couple of minutes, filled drinks, assured me that I wasn't forgotten and apologized profusely. When Moderno's staff got behind, everything just halted, and the waiters vanished.
One great addition for me was the unlimited Internet package, which may now be fleet-wide. It is much easier to pay one price and get it over with than to keep adding minutes. You can use as many devices as you like, one at a time. It is still painfully expensive, but it's at a price point I will tolerate (barely), to avoid counting minutes. On crossings, I can just carry my iPhone with me wherever I go, and leave it connected to the Internet.
Norwegian Epic is a nice floating hotel. I would call her a ship, but to me, a ship has multiple, easily accessible outdoor spots, not just my balcony and the pool deck. There are some outdoor spaces, but they are not well-marked. My wife has mellowed on the Epic over our three trips, I can say I don't actively hate her any more, but she is not anywhere near my favorite. I prefer the Breakaway class - actually, I prefer the Jewel-class ships.
So, any cruise is a good cruise, but this just seemed like a bunch of people going through the motions. I wouldn't say I was disappointed, but I wasn't thrilled. I did get a lot of rest, which is the purpose of almost any vacation, but part of that was from a lack of anything compelling to do onboard. As a Latitudes Platinum member, this trip, combined with the incessant complaining on CC about policy changes and the tendency towards "ships as a destination" (that go to the same ports repeatedly) has made me start to wonder what else is out there. Read Less