OK – let me start with a full disclosure. My family has taken 6 Disney cruises and loved every one of them. We only took Norwegian because we wanted to begin our summer vacation with the convenience of a cruise while we visited Spain, Italy, and France. So, if you sense a bias, there probably is one, but I’m trying to be as objective as I can.
It’s tough not to compare the two cruise lines. As a family we tried our best to discourage each other from making comparisons – positive or negative – to Disney. Norwegian and Disney are two different cruise lines with two different approaches to cruising, and we recognized that.
Overall, our impression was two-fold: First, there are a LOT of people on this ship. The site says that it has a capacity of 4100 passengers and 1753 crew (2.34 passengers to 1 crew), but my comments below seem to not reflect this. I have read elsewhere that children under a certain age are not considered to be passengers. Second, we believe the crew and the ship itself are just “tired”. Again, the specifics below seem to support this.
Here’s the specifics for Norwegian from our Mediterranean cruise in mid-June 2015:
• Overall, the food quality was good. I would rate it as “standard” cruise fare – nothing stand out.
• In the “Moderno” Brazilian restaurant, some of the meats were overdone and chewy. The chicken was dry. The sides were lackluster, and the desserts didn’t seem to be appetizing to us.
• “Cagney’s” steakhouse restaurant was pretty good. A couple of us had the filet that was done to our liking, but, again, it was dry.
• The teppanyaki restaurant was OK. The scallops were exceptionally good.
• “Le Bistro” French restaurant was probably our favorite specialty restaurant. The escargot were great, and the rest of the food was better than any other specialty restaurant we had.
• The “Garden Café” buffet lines were OK, too. Again, pretty much standard cruise fare with no particular standouts. INSIDER TIP: At the very front of the ship there is a seating area for the Garden Café that is often overlooked. But it has stunning views and is away from the serving lines. Check this out early in the morning for your own private retreat.
• “O’Sheehan’s” (say it a couple of times and you’ll get the nautical pun) was a great little place to have a meal. The menu is very limited, but what a great place to just hang out with no extra charges and have a burger, breakfast, or a cup of coffee.
• “Wasabi” – sushi bar. Average tasting sushi - not bad, but nothing exceptional.
• INSIDER TIP: The “Ultimate Dining Package” is a good value if you want to visit the specialty restaurants. When you add up your price to visit one or two of the specialty restaurants, you’ll see that it’s worth it.
• Here’s where we can’t help but compare Norwegian and Disney – because they are so different. Norwegian has the “freestyle” cruising concept where you can show up to any of their “complimentary” restaurants at any time and eat. That certainly allows for great flexibility – especially for families. Disney has a “rotational” dining schedule where you are assigned a seating time in a certain restaurant each night (you can choose between an early or late seating time). On either ship, you can choose to opt out of eating in a restaurant and just doing the buffet if you wish.
• Hands down the best serving staff we encountered was at O’Sheehans – the little 24 hour Irish pub/snack bar on deck 6. They seemed happy, worked as a team, and were very attentive to us even when we were in a rush and opted to have their “express” breakfast. I made sure to make a positive comment to the officer that was there as well. But, again, they had more than enough servers to handle the amount of people that were there. That counted for a lot, too.
• This is where the contrast becomes specifically evident. The trade-off you make with the flexibility on Norwegian is the quality of service. With Disney (and I think with other cruise lines), you have a waiter team (we had a waiter and assistant waiter on Disney) that goes with you from restaurant to restaurant. We so appreciated the relationship we established with our team over the week knowing what we liked, didn’t like, and the kids really looked forward to seeing their “friends” each night.
• Again, the wait staff and restaurant on the Norwegian Epic seemed to be non-committal on whether we were there or not. I wouldn’t go so far as to say they were rude, but as I said before, the sheer numbers of people may have made this a far less “personalized” experience than we’ve experienced elsewhere. No one called us by name, and I was never asked by an officer or staff member how our meal was going. On a visit to the sushi bar, we noticed a server for the Teppanyaki bar come outside the restaurant, cough directly into their hands, then return back in and start serving guests. Rarely did a wait staff come and ask us how we liked our food. It seemed that we were just cattle and they were going through the motions of getting us fed and watered.
• We did observe that the clear majority of the serving staff were from the Philippines. Coming from a country that employs many Southeast Asian people as workers, we know the strong work ethic of the Pilipino people. We also know that coming from such a poor country where wages are low and unemployment is high results in people willing to find work for sub-standard wages. While Disney had its share of Southeast Asian serving staff, they also had British, American, European, Indian, and other nationalities. This isn’t a reflection on any particular culture - it’s just a difference worth noting.
• Our cabin was #12145 – mid-ships, near the top of the ship, with a balcony.
• We are the type of family who doesn’t spend a lot of time in the cabin. When we come back from excursions or hectic times at the pool, it was a great retreat for some solitude and quiet (see below).
• One thing we have to say right off is that our cabin was QUIET! Wow. They must have done something because we heard NOTHING from cabins on either side of us, on top or underneath. It was truly a haven away from what can otherwise be a cruise with a lot of sensory overload. Even on Disney, we didn’t experience this level of quiet. There was no door slamming, kids running down the hallway screaming, toilets flushing, or anything. Even with our door open at night to hear the waves, we weren’t aware of parties and music from 3 decks above. We may have just been lucky, but were greatly impressed with this feature.
• Storage was another plus with these cabins. They have really designed these cabins to find all kinds of areas to tuck away things. There’s plenty of room to hang long dresses (if that’s your thing) and even a medicine cabinet to put your toiletries. Wonderful.
• I like the idea of the separate shower and toilet. We never used both spaces at once, but with a larger family, it might be nice. Some people online were not thrilled with the translucent quality of the doors, but since you could draw a curtain it didn’t matter. The sink is separate from the shower and toilet, so that was convenient. You could hear someone going to the bathroom, so just be aware of that….
• Beds were firm - which is how we like them – so that is a plus. Pillows were also comfortable.
• The walking space is compromised by the storage and nice size beds, so just don’t expect that you’ll have strolling space in the cabin. I would go to O’Sheehans while the girls got ready in the morning just to get one less body in there, and that worked out fine.
• On the downside, the cabin did seem worn. The laminate counter was peeling up, there were scratches near the refrigerator, the sealer on the shower door was not secure, the carpets were worn and faded, there was rust and stains on the balcony, and the medicine cabinet mirror had chipped edges. Let me be clear – there was nothing that compromised the health or safety of a guest. In general, it had the quality of a Ramada vs. a Marriott hotel room. Not bad, but not what you’d expect from a hotel room costing you hundreds of dollars a night. It’s ready for a dry dock stint – which is what may be in the cards for the Epic as the Escape is launched this fall.
• Jimmy was great. I can’t give an overall rating for the ship in this area, because there are so many possibilities for a range of quality. However, Jimmy was never late with a turn down service, made really cute animals from towels (a cruise favorite for us), and always provided us with a smile and a warm greeting from the moment we arrived on the ship.
• We left Jimmy notes of thanks each night. We can only imagine the lack of respect that stewards must get and the messes they have to clean up. We try to make their life a little nicer by offering a special note of thanks. We will also buy an international calling card at our last port and leave it for him. Nice guy.
• Again, this isn’t Disney, so we didn’t expect the level of quality or offerings that Disney had. Having said that, our 12 year old checked out the activities and area for the 10-12 year old set, and gave it a thumbs down. And she doesn’t give a thumbs down a lot. When she went in to see what they were doing, they were getting ready for a circus performance by spinning plates on top of poles. She said the kids looked totally bored and the area was decorated and designed for kids much younger. She never went to any of the kid’s activities or areas. Based on her reviews, I can’t say that I blame her. It might be different for younger or older kids, though. Your kid’s experience may vary!
• This is where we really noticed that the ship and crew were tired and too few in quantity. The inside decks seemed clean enough, but the outside decks bordered on being dirty. Spills on the floor, food items left lying around, glass full of fingerprints, rust on the metal surfaces, and tables casually – not thoroughly – wiped – and more. All of these led us to make sure that we cleaned our table, re-sanitized our hands, and find an area that looked relatively clean.
• Again, the sheer numbers of people on this ship leads one to believe that it’s a monumental task to keep areas clean and maintained. And maybe someone who doesn’t mind that problem wouldn’t really care. But we are paying a lot of money to have a quality experience. This was a major down side of this cruise for me. The outside decks just need more crew on them to pick up after the large numbers of passengers.
• The waterslides – at least on the day we tested them – were FRIGID. We’re used to cold water and actually like it because that provides a bit more protection from bacteria, but this was absolutely cold. The water was probably just refreshed before we used them, and maybe we’ll try them again on our last day, but it was so cold that we just couldn’t use them.
• The pools are SMALL! There are a variety of small pools on the main decks. The two for families to use are probably 7 meters by 20 meters each. There are other smaller wading and splash pools for the younger ones. But you have to time your use of them so that you don’t end up with people soup. It didn’t help that one of the pools was constantly closed due to cleaning after an accident – but the cruise line can’t do anything about that.
• By far, the shows were the highlight of the cruise. We were impressed, and this is saying a lot with our experience on Disney which has won many cruise line awards for their shows. The quality overall was exceptional and whoever hired and coordinated the talent should be congratulated.
• “Cirque Dreams and Dinner” was absolutely stunning. It’s an additional price - $29.95 for “standard” seating and $39.95 for “premium” seating. The latter just means that you’re seated first with your first choice of where you would like to sit. You’re seated with others based on the size of your group, so be prepared for that. INSIDER TIP: I’d go for the premium seating and get to the line to get into the show about 50-60 minutes before the show start. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to go for a seat that is in near the center ring in front of the tech booth on the right as you come in. It seems most of the action faced that way, but honestly, there’s not a bad seat in the house. You have a set menu of prosciutto ham, steak and shrimp, and then a trio of desserts that are acceptable, but you’re required to eat them during the show which is difficult with the stunning acts you’ll experience. Bring the family. NOTE: If you have family members who are especially sensitive to constant visual or auditory stimuli, they’ll have a hard time with this. The music is pulsing, the lights and costumes are flashy, and there is not a break for the whole time you are there.
• The rest of the shows are just as high a quality. We saw pretty much all of them, but if we had the chance, we’d go to Cirque again on the cruise – it was just that good.
• The times for the shows are somewhat scattered and it’s tough to make the schedule work with dinner reservations at the specialty restaurants and getting to see the shows. Actually, this is somewhat of a problem with the “freestyle” type of schedule. It’s too flexible in my opinion – so much so that it gets to be a problem with trying to fit things in that you want to do. With the traditional “fixed” schedule, you have an early dinner and a late show or vice versa.
• This area is so much about personal preference that it’s hard to review. And the quality of the excursions vary so much on the tour operator, time of year, guide, and other factors that you just have to look at the description, pick those that seem of interest to you and go for it. Just know that you’re not the only cruise ship in town, so you’ll be rubbing elbows, shoulders, and backpacks with the rest of the world, too.
• While my wife and daughter headed to Mt. Vesuvius in Pompeii, I elected to just go into town in Napoli, get lost on a side street, find a café where no one spoke English, get my email with the Wi-Fi, and have the locals laugh at my attempts at Italian for a couple of hours. I didn’t see another cruiser for that whole time, and I really enjoyed just people-watching and relaxing away from the hustle and bustle.
• My ratings reflect an overall “good” experience and, again, reflect a bias towards the extremely high quality (and accompanying high prices) of the Disney line. I didn’t expect and didn’t want luxury cruising. I did expect clean decks, well-maintained cabins, and an attentive, personal staff. Sometimes, we got that, but most of the time we did not.
• In case anyone from Norwegian sees this, here’s some suggestions:
o Make your daily schedule more readable in a grid format so that you can look down a specific time and see what’s going on around the ship.
o It might cut into profits, but reduce the crew:passenger ratio. It’s affecting your quality of service.
o Let the passengers know when the photographers are available with what backgrounds at the start of each cruise or on the schedule. We missed out on the white background that our family was looking for because we didn’t know the opportunity had already happened.
o Do more management by walking around. Rather than standing in the corner having officers talk to each other, have them talk to the passengers and get immediate, detailed feedback. You might learn a lot prior to the feedback survey at the end of the cruise.
o Put server staff where they want to be. It seemed that some of your staff really didn’t want to work in a particular restaurant (or in a restaurant at all), so maybe find out and then quietly “secret shopper” the staff to see if it’s a good fit.
o Give better descriptions of youth activities. Simply putting “Wacky Tacky Party” in the schedule doesn’t say what the activity is.
o Freshen up your staff and ship. Show your teppanyaki chefs some videos of other chefs for new ideas on how to entertain guests, model for your servers how to never go by a table without delivering, picking up, or refreshing something at the table, demonstrate the difference between a lackluster host/hostess greeting and a greeting that makes every guest feel like you were waiting just for them at your restaurants.
o If you’re going to continue to build ships larger, don’t do it at the sacrifice of your crew:passenger ratios.
That’s about it. We had a good time, and we saw all the places we wanted to see. If we consider that the cruise was just a means of having a place to eat, sleep, and transport us to the Mediterranean locations, then it was a success. We just wish it was a bit more than that. Read Less