We have been wanting to cruise on the Epic since we were on the Jade in 2011 and watched the video presentation of this latest ship in the NCL fleet. Since then, we've looked at many reviews of the ship, and finally we found an ... Read More
We have been wanting to cruise on the Epic since we were on the Jade in 2011 and watched the video presentation of this latest ship in the NCL fleet. Since then, we've looked at many reviews of the ship, and finally we found an itinerary that suited us. We had a balcony room just forward of mid-ship on the starboard side (10075). It was the second balcony where the side of the ship flares out, so it was wider at one end than the other, and I would say slightly bigger than the rectangular balconies. We had initially been assigned a 'handicapped' room--which we did not ask for nor need. It may have been somewhat roomier than regular rooms, but there has been so much controversy over the shape and configuration of the Epic staterooms that we wanted to experience it ourselves. As we suspected, there was absolutely no reason for complaint about the room at all. We were on back to back cruises and had to change rooms for the second cruise (Room 12125) but they were essentially identical (we chose the configuration where the bed is by the balcony.) We do not understand all the negative comments about the bathrooms or anything else about the rooms. There was lots of storage for the two of us. Having the toilet separate from the shower is a big plus. The shower was much better size than those in the smaller ships, and had glass doors rather than a curtain that clings to you while you are showering! The only 'lack' in the room was power outlets. We always bring a power bar along so that solved that particular issue. However, the head of the bed was on the opposite side of the cabin from the outlet, which meant there was no way to have your phone or tablet by your bedside, charging overnight. There really should be an electric outlet on that side of the room or at least USB ports by each side of the bed. Ordinarily I also bring an extension cord, but for some reason didn't this time. That may have been a solution to that particular problem, but then might also have caused a tripping hazard! And the extension cord would have needed to be extra long too.
As usual the NCL staff was excellent. We've sailed 8 of our 9 cruises on NCL and I don't think we have ever had a bad experience with their staff. We had a piece of luggage that did not make it to Barcelona with us, and was supposed to eventually get to us on the ship. Very long story short, we never saw our luggage until we got back home, but NCL has staff that continually follow up with this type of thing and they were very helpful and accommodating. They also gave us free laundry service which helped immensely.
On the first of our two (back-to-back) cruises we had unlimited specialty dining (a booking perk--we did not purchase it) so we took advantage of it and ate at Cagney's (twice), Modernos (twice), La Cucina, Le Bistro and Cirque Spiegel. Each meal was very good and service excellent. Food and service in the main dining rooms was very good as well and we had breakfast lunch and dinner at those venues. We ate lunches several times at O'Sheehans and we also enjoyed our food there. We were a bit surprised at that, as we had eaten at O'Sheehans on the Jewel (2015) and its predecessor (Ocean Blue? something like that) on the Jade in 2011, and were not impressed by the quality of food there at all. So it was a nice place to grab a bite instead of going to the buffet (I don't like buffets very much!) That being said, we did eat at the buffet for some breakfasts and maybe one dinner. The food was varied and excellent. We have never felt the buffets deserve the negative reviews they sometimes receive. I just don't like going all over the place to find what I want, then finding a table and balancing drink and plate and by the time I get to the table my food is no longer hot. I prefer to be served!
We also had the unlimited (ultimate?) beverage package. That sure is the way to go--no worries about a bar bill at the end. All drinks at all bars are not created equal! I found it surprising that the liquor brands were not consistent at each bar, and the same drink ordered at different bars could be quite different. So you need to try them all out and figure out where to go to get what you particularly want. Some bartenders were more generous with measuring the alcohol than others. We also found inconsistencies as to how the bartenders would handle the ordering when you have the beverage package. Some would not let you order a double, others would. Some made you show 2 key cards if you were ordering 2 drinks, others didn't. Since we were just 2 couples travelling together and all of us had the package, we were not trying to get away with anything. It was just a convenience to sometimes order a double, and if you are heading to your room for the evening, you should be able to order a couple of drinks each to take with you. We found that for the most part the system operated as it should and was very convenient and accommodating. I understand that on the first day they want to see a key card per drink, but they relaxed after that. Sometimes the bars were really busy and you had to wait awhile to be served, but that was not an issue. One could wish that there were more choices for wines by the glass, esp for white wine drinkers.
We do have one complaint about NCL's ultimate beverage package and that is that it does not include all drinks--and by that I mean you still have to pay for fresh squeezed juices, bottled water and specialty coffees (expresso, latte, etc.) That just doesn't make sense to me when you are paying USD $80 a day per person!! Since we are from Canada, it was more like $110 a day per person. I don't think any day did we ever actually drink the number of drinks it would take to spend that amount of money, so when you pay that amount just for beverages, it should include everything. This is an example of the one major flaw of NCL: they do nickel and dime you and it is sort of irritating. However, we love freestyle cruising so we take the good with the bad. If NCL wants to improve, we suggest that would be a big plus to most people. Beverage packages with some of the other cruise lines include everything, some for a lower price.
I think the ship had been refurbished some time in 2016 so there was nothing to complain about in the ship itself. Everything was in good repair and clean.
We didn't get to all of the entertainment. The Cavern Club's 'house band' Siglo was just excellent and we saw them most nights. We did not go to see the main theatre show. It was Priscilla Queen of the Desert--and was the only choice for a main show to see. Our group thought it in very poor taste to present that show on a family cruise. Everyone can make their own entertainment choices, but presenting that particular message front and center to 4500 passengers is just not politic in my mind. Obviously many agree as I have read other reviewers with the same comments. Neutral family entertainment, please. I don't want someone's agenda forced on me. Burn the Floor was very entertaining. The one Epic Beatles show we went to at the Cavern Club was nothing spectacular. I think they had an alternate show in the main theatre which we may have enjoyed more, but we didn't get to it. We enjoyed the two or three shows we saw at the Headliners venue. We never sat in on Howl at the Moon--went by it one night and peeked in for a minute or two, but was disappointed in the quality of the singing we heard so didn't bother making an effort to go back another time.
As far as activities during the day, we felt them somewhat lacking from other NCL trips. We didn't like the use of the atrium cafe and big screen as a main venue for trivia and other games as it is an area where everyone walks through. We have always enjoyed the quietness of an unused bar area (for example) during the day for things like origami, towel and napkin folding, trivia, language lessons, and so on. And hands on activities are better than just demonstrations.
Our cruises were a 9 day Canary Islands and 7 day western Mediterranean, April 14-30, back-to-back, both departing from Barcelona. This was spring break in Europe. The ship was over-full because of many families travelling. The Epic seemed like a good ship for children and teens. And I'm sure the staff that look after these age groups were grateful to have something to do. However, we will make sure we don't travel at that time of year again. Just way too many people, and the kids took over much of the outdoor activities. We deliberately returned early to the ship on a port day in the Canary Islands so that we could hope to have a lounge chair and be able to try out the water slides. That was the only day we could do that. Because of the crowded pool deck, Spice H2O , the adult outdoor venue at the back of the ship, was also always full. We anticipated spending outdoor time here on the Epic but so did everyone else. So we never spent more than a lunch here (same day we did the water slides) and one drink one evening. If we were travelling with children (and yes we do have children and grandchildren!), we would have had a different view of things. But since we weren't, we prefer our cruises to have less children running around, so we will plan future sailings with that in mind. Usually, we travel the first two weeks of May and that seems to be a better time from that point of view. We also didn't appreciate children, and babies, being in bar/entertainment venues (like the Cavern Club and Headliners) in the evenings.
We did the Ice Bar! That is a pretty 'cool' offering and worth the price of admission. They don't tell you this, but if you want to put your drink down on the counter, place it on one of the napkins there! Otherwise, the cup just slides right off the ice onto the floor....
For the number of passengers (4500+), the Epic did not seem to have enough room for everyone. All the space seemed confined. Other than the pool deck, and the poor excuse for a jogging track on deck 6 or 7 (you can only run back and forth a short length on that deck!!) there is no way to actually get outside. And the way the decks are configured, you can't walk all the way around the ship on one level. There is no large space with windows where you can go during the day to just chill and read or whatever. On smaller NCL ships, we spend a lot of quiet time during the day at the Spinnaker Lounge or the Observation Lounge. There was no venue like that on the Epic. Also, we had bad seas a couple of days and we missed a port (Malaga) and the outside decks were not open. So everyone was stuck inside and there was just nowhere to sit. We found a quiet area in the lounge outside Cagneys/Modernos and we played some cards there and one of our group laid on a couch. We were the only people there and there were other empty chairs and couches. A large family came in and decided their choice was to sit in the area where our friend was lying and they asked him to move. Two issues here: presumably the family couldn't find a place to spend time together elsewhere and felt compelled to ask someone to give up their space--which is the fault of the Epic designers; but, secondly, who does that?? I can't imagine asking someone to move so I could have their spot. I thought that was very rude, but we came across several instances of this type of behaviour and were quite flabbergasted at people's nerve.
I digress. Continuing on with the space issues: There was no multi-level atrium--there were a couple of places that had 2 floors connected, but no grand open space. The atrium level had a 2 storey tv screen, that you could look down onto from O'Sheehans above, but the rest of that area was just one level in height and it seemed the ceiling was really low. We would agree with past reviews we've read that it seems like the Epic was built just to pack in as many people as it could. In doing so, they sacrificed personal space for everyone. If the ship hadn't been over-capacity (over 4500 passengers, instead of 4100) we may not have felt the pinch quite so badly. But we most likely aren't going to sail the Epic again to find out.
The fitness center was huge! We thought we would use it, but we did so much walking on shore excursions, we didn't feel the need for more exercise, and besides, we were on vacation! We did get treated to use of the spa for our second cruise of 7 days. After dinner, we would go there and sit in the steam room for awhile, then go into the hydrotherapy pool, then into the hot tub, then relax on the heated loungers, looking out the aft of the ship. It was a beautiful way to wind down before bed. I had my best sleeps of my vacation those nights. Speaking of sleeping, the beds were good. Having the rounded corners at the foot of the bed took away some sleeping area--my husband is 6'2" and I'm 5'5", so he had to sleep a little on the diagonal. So if 2 very tall people were sleeping together the length of the bed might be an issue. But it was fine for us.
I won't comment much on the ports. We had been to some on past cruises, and some were new to us. We chose the itinerary because of the ports, and I expect everyone to have their own take on that. That being said, if you have never taken a Mediterranean cruise or seen Italy, then our second cruise would be great for you as it hits all the high points: Barcelona, Naples, Rome, Pisa/Florence, Cannes, Majorca. It was a 7 day cruise with 6 port days, so if you want to get off the ship and see all those ports, it will be quite tiring for you. There was only one sea day and that was the first day. We like to see new things, but we also need rest (we work full time), so a port every other day is actually ideal in our minds. The 9 day Canary Islands cruise was better from that point of view: Barcelona, Tangier, Las Palmas, Lanzarote, Malaga (which we had to skip due to weather).
We did not do any NCL excursions this time. We arranged our own excursions at Tangier (Tours by Said), Lanzarote and Naples. The rest of the ports we just did our own thing. The Cruise Critic roll call is excellent for arranging excursions outside of the ship's.
We bought internet time (as we usually do) USD$125 for 250 minutes, plus we had 120 free minutes because of our Platinum status (30 minutes for each Platinum member for each cruise--which you could put all on the same account). The internet access seemed worse on this ship than we have previously experienced on other ships. The only 'good' connection we experienced was in our rooms. Trying to use it at other venues was a big frustration, and waste of paid internet time. We also used the iConcierge application in our group for messaging. There was a charge of USD$9.99 per person for that. It was decent, but we did find messages were delayed, or you had to remember to often close and reopen the program to keep it working. I think that if you are paying for internet access, the iConcierge messaging should be included and not an additional separate charge. One nice thing was that we were not charged for each cruise, we just paid once.
Weather for our trip was much better than we thought we might encounter for that time of year. I would say almost every day was sunny, except for the 1-2 days on the ship where seas were high and we had to miss Malaga. Temps. were warm, not hot, maybe 15-20 (C). So it was very pleasant.
All in all, our 2 cruises were great. We were just a little disappointed in the Epic, and probably will not deliberately seek her out for another cruise, unless it is a 2 week long cruise, that is not during a school break (read: way less kids/people on board). There were just way too many passengers for the room on the ship. NCL--we still love this cruise line, and bought the future cruise credits again (as we do each cruise we go on).
Just wish they would make a couple of adjustments in what they charge you for. Read Less