Overall Rating: Very Good
|# of Nights:||7 Nights|
|Overall Value:||Very Good|
|Overall Rating:||Very Good|
This was my second time on the Epic, my first being in December 2017 with a group training seminar. My impressions of the ship weren’t all that great after the last cruise, but, in all fairness, because I was in sessions all day, I had skimmed over or completely missed some of the ship's features. My husband, David, liked this 7-day Mediterranean itinerary, so I found myself aboard once again.
Pre-Cruise: We spent a night at Hotel Jazz, a pretty boutique hotel in the center of the city close to many of the main attractions and within walking distance of the popular pedestrian walk of Las Ramblas. The hotel featured a nice rooftop pool and bar overlooking the city. Breakfast was good with lots of excellent choices. We didn’t have much time in the city, but did manage to go out for paella, to a place recommended by Rick Steves and Fodor’s. This is the second time we’ve tried a restaurant recommended by Rick Steves and the second time we’ve been disappointed, as the paella was dry and overcooked.
Embarkation: Our taxi dropped us off directly at the terminal, and with our priority embarkation, we were through security, registration and on board in no time at all. Surprisingly, a note was given to all guests at embarkation stating that all ship excursions in Rome were canceled, due to an impending strike by the Rome transport union. We had nothing planned for Rome since an in-depth visit a few years ago, but I can imagine there must have been some unhappy people getting that news. We went on to explore the ship and ate lunch at the Irish pub, O’Sheehan’s, while waiting for rooms to be ready.
Balcony Cabin 10107: As I wrote in my last review of the Epic, the cabin design is odd, with the separate shower and toilet “pods” and sink area. I still think it’s strange, but definitely better when sharing a cabin with somebody you’re intimately acquainted with. In fact, except for the precious cabin space occupied by the pods and the overly large loveseat, the bed was comfortable, storage was plentiful, and the cabin was fine for this married couple of 41 years. It was conveniently located near the front set of elevators on an angle with a large balcony. NCL needs to improve on their standard balcony furniture, though, as they provide 2 chairs (non-reclining), no foot rest, and a tiny table barely large enough to hold 2 drinks, all lost on an extra-roomy space.
Wi-fi: I purchased the unlimited plan which isn’t cheap, but because I love to blog from my destinations and incapable of unplugging, I was able to do so without keeping tabs on minutes. There is also a less expensive social media plan, but since I run a business, I wanted the full plan. There is also the free Norwegian Concierge app available to download that let’s you view your account, the day’s activities, reserve shore excursions, and so on. It’s a handy feature to have, but annoyingly had me re-register the app every time I logged in. Sometimes it loaded, and sometimes it didn’t. It also had incorrect or missing info in the daily schedule, so it definitely could use some improvement. WI-FI, for the most part, worked well.
Dining: We made reservations a few weeks in advance for anytime 6:30 or 7:00 pm dining, which I do recommend. We were seated almost immediately. I do admit, though, that due to some impromptu decisions in our entertainment choices, we blew off our reservations on a couple of evenings and dined elsewhere.
Taste (Main Dining) Good service and excellent prime rib and duck. As far as decor and ambiance, we liked the Manhattan better.
Manhattan (Main Dining). This dining room has a supper club type atmosphere and features live music. The first night, we found the music to be a bit loud for dinner music. Otherwise, it’s a pretty, classy looking room. I had the pork which was a little dry, but the linguini and clams were delicious.
Noodle Bar: The complimentary Shanghai’s Asian restaurant has a very good noodle bar serving up noodle and rice dishes. It was delicious and one of our favorite meals all week.
Garden Cafe (buffet): Standard buffet fare, nothing special. Like all ship buffets, it gets crazy crowded at rush hours. Most times, though, there is plenty of seating inside and outside, as well as extra seating in La Cucina Italian restaurant down the stairs at the rear.
O’Sheehan’s (complimentary pub food): Good wings and spinach dip. I also loved the Shepard’s Pie. There is a nice bar, but it gets pretty noisy with the casino, the atrium entertainment, and the bar arcade amusements nearby.
Teppanyaki: We had no plans to eat at any of the specialty restaurants, but booked this one on a whim. We have eaten in many Japanese hibachi restaurants back home, and this one was much more refined, to the point of boring. For a good hibachi experience, you need a fun chef. Our chef appeared to be new, and wasn’t as lively or experienced as the chef at the table next to us. Due to ship safety regs, I assume, there was no flaming volcano. Nor was there any of the other fun interaction that normally comes with the hibachi experience. As for the food, the shrimp was good, but the steak was a bit overdone.
Bars/Lounges: We had the beverage promotion, and never found a wait for drinks. Service was always good, and staff was friendly. Roaming waiters were never hard to find.
Shows and Entertainment: Be aware that most shows require advance reservations, which can be booked on line, at the ship box office, or on the stateroom TV. Without reservations, you can wait in the standby line, and if there is room, you’ll get in. We reserved times for shows a few weeks in advance, and those not available, we booked at the onboard box office not long after boarding. Here are the ones we went to:
Burn the Floor: Excellent music and choreography, beautiful sets, and all-round exhilarating performance! I saw the show back in December, but they changed up a few numbers, so it was fresh.
Priscilla Queen of the Desert: If you like risqué musicals about drag queens in over-the-top costumes singing recycled 70s pop tunes, you’ll like this show. If you don’t, then you’ll probably hate it and walk out mid performance - and you won’t be alone. I saw this musical back in December on the Epic, and this time around, I just couldn’t get past the lead character’s quivering, annoying Katherine Hepburn-like voice. My husband - with his musical theater background - thought it was the worst show he’d ever seen. I wouldn’t pay to see it on Broadway, but it made for amusing cruise ship entertainment with a weak but heartwarming theme about tolerance and acceptance.
Cirque Dreams: The show takes place in the round Spiegel Tent. My #1 advice would be to splurge and buy the Premium tickets. I had seen the show back in December with premium tickets, so this time I figured I’d buy the regular seats. With both ways you get a meal, which, by the way, is not great. With premium seats, you’re centrally located at tables somewhere near the middle, close to the entertainment. Regular seating is located in the back of beyond - in booths at the far rear, under an overhang, blocking much of the action. Our two table companions didn’t show, so fortunately, I was able to spread out and put my feet up. My husband, on the other hand, was cramped for space. It’s a great show, though, with fun audience participation - especially for the folks handpicked from the crowd. A special nod goes out to the contortionist, who twisted herself into unimaginable positions.
Epic Beatles: A Beatles cover band plays in the Cavern, which is a small venue with too few seats for such a popular show. The Cavern, though, is a groovy place, modeled loosely after the place where the Fab Four got their Liverpool start, but to accommodate a cruise ship population of this size, you’d think they’d have at least one performance in the theatre. We managed to snag seats for one of three shows over the course of the cruise, and it was great. In likeness, John closely resembled the real thing, but Paul, George and Ringo could use some new wigs. More important, though, was the music, which was spot on. They were great, sang some favorites, and rocked the house!
Barricade Boys: This a capella group of four guys from London’s theatre scene performed in Headliners (the comedy club) and was our favorite entertainment of the week. Superb voices, great stage presence and awesome show tunes, including their signature songs from Les Miserable, brought down the house.
The bands playing around the ship were all solid, but some of the vocalists/piano players were unremarkable. One young woman was so bad and off-key, that I had to walk out.
Aqua Park: The midship outdoor pool area consists of two pools, a kids pool area, and huge water slides. The pools are ridiculously small for a ship this size. Fortunately, most of the kids are busy with the water slides, cutting down on the number of kids in the pool. There was a pool attendant keeping an eye on the kids, blowing a whistle when they didn’t follow the rules. The nearby Wave Bar was our daily meeting place and favorite spot for people watching.
Spice H20: This is the pool/entertainment/movie area at the back of the ship, for the adults. I didn’t spend any time out there during the day, as I need shade, and there is none back there.
Fitness Center: We spent a few mornings here trying to burn off excess calories. It’s a large, bright area with plenty of machines and equipment, and there was never a wait.
Casino: The casino takes up most of Deck 6, from end to end, and there is no escaping it, as you have to walk through it to get anywhere. David came out way ahead, and I flushed money down the drain. He says I lose because the machines can read my negative slot vibes. He's probably right.
Naples: The last time we were here, we did an Amalfi Coast tour with Positano, Ravelo, and Pompei, so we decided to see some of Naples. I’ve heard people say there is nothing in Naples, and I’ll agree that there is nothing special about downtown, and in fact the streets aren’t the cleanest. Smoking is a popular pastime here, judging by the cigarette butts covering the sidewalks. But by venturing out away from the port and downtown, you’ll be surprised how beautiful Naples is. We took a hop on-hop off bus along the coast, and although it wasn’t as spectacular as the Amalfi Coast, it was really very beautiful with some great ocean vistas. At the conclusion of the tour, we stopped by a local pizzeria for some authentic Naplitano pizza, which was excellent.
Civitavecchia (Rome): Unfortunately, and I’m sure to the dismay of many passengers, there was a transport strike of some kind in Rome, resulting in the cancellation of all ship excursions, shuttles and tourist busses to Rome. The ship did supply shuttles to the bus station where guests could get a local bus or walk an additional 20 minutes to the train station. Since we had been to Rome before and have seen all the major sites, we decided to stay onboard for the day. Besides, since Rome is over an hour from Civitavecchia, it’s better enjoyed on a pre or post-cruise city stay to really make it worth your while.
Livorno (Florence): We loved this city, and definitely added it to our long list of places to explore more in depth in the future. We hired a private tour through Joe Banana limo, and our guide, Julian, was wonderful. He is a British native, but has lived and worked in Florence as a local olive tree farmer for many years and does tours on the side. He provided us with lots of history of the area on the 1 1/2 hr. ride, and was very friendly and easy going. Our primary goal was to see Michelangelo’s David, where we spent a good amount of time sitting and marveling at every detail of this incredible masterpiece. The remainder of our time was spent in the surrounding area, lunch at a cafe, gelato, and views from the medieval bridge, Ponte Vecchio. We didn’t have time to cross the entire bridge but did capture some beautiful photos of the river and surrounding city.
Cannes: If you don’t want to spend money or time on an excursion to Nice or Monaco, you’ll find Cannes to be a great city to explore on your own. Nearly everything is in walking distance, but there are tour busses available, as well as a funky little tram called Le Petite Train. David stayed on board, while I got off the ship to check out the town. I rode Le Petite Train around for an overview, passing by swanky hotels and billion dollar yachts, with headphone narration of film fest history and the rich and famous who come to visit. The downside is that there are no photo-op stops, and it’s not hop on-hop off service. When we got to the vista view point at Notre Dame d’Esperance church, I knew I had to get back there to see more. So when the tour was done, I hiked back up, using a combination of steep roads and steps, and it was definitely worth the effort. The way down was very pleasant, as I strolled narrow cobblestone streets full of shops and quaint outdoor cafes.
Palma de Mallorca: We had no plans for Palma, so we booked an excursion through the ship at the last minute while on board — a tour of Palma and the quaint village of Valdemossa, one of the few available tours remaining. It was a nice 4–hour ride past some of the highlights of Palma, with a couple of photo stops, led by a very knowledgeable guide. Large coach tours are never my first choice, but we figured this would give us a brief overview. After the ride through Palma, we enjoyed a beautiful ride through the mountains to Valdemossa, a charming little town with narrow cobblestone streets, shops and cafes. We had a free beverage, courtesy of the cruise line and a raffle entry to win a gift from a pearl shop. Well, we didn’t win the gift, but my husband bought a lovely set of pearl earrings for me. Add Valdemossa to my list of places to visit on a land tour in the future.
A note about pickpockets: They lurk everywhere in Europe, and all these places are no exception. In fact, one guy was a victim of a pickpocket while on our Palma tour. Against the advice of our guide, who pretty much said his wallet was history, he chose to remain in Palma and make a report with the local police. We're not sure if he ever made it back to the ship, but it was a lesson and reminder to take the proper precautions when out and about, especially in crowds, and always be alert and aware of your surroundings.
Disembarkation: NCL is pretty organized. Collect color coded luggage tags for your preferred time the night before, put your luggage outside your cabin door by 11 pm, eat breakfast in one of the designated eating spots, and wait for your color to be called. You can also carry your bags off - also known as self-disembark. Barcelona uses a carousel in the baggage claim area, which nicely eliminated the need for rummaging through a hundred bags.
Post-Cruise Stay, Barcelona: We chose another boutique hotel, this time Hotel Pulitzer, located in the same area as Hotel Jazz. Unlike Hotel Jazz, there was no rooftop pool, but there was a bar up there, a bit more rustic than the same at Jazz, and the view was not quite as impressive. However, the hotel is charming with a beautiful lobby bar and breakfast terrace. The room was very nice, and the bathroom was huge with a walk-in shower. The Spanish love their balconies and terraces, and we had a very pretty one overlooking the city streets, and we left the windows open a crack so we could hear city life below us. This time, we asked the hotel staff for dining recommendations, and they send us a couple of blocks over to a restaurant, where we enjoyed tapas and much better paella in the sidewalk cafe!
Final thoughts: We loved this cruise. Except for Rome and Naples, these were all new ports for us, and we were blessed with perfect weather, beautiful new places and wonderful experiences. The not so great: Epic is still too big for my liking, and sorely lacks a promenade deck. Their version of a jogging track is a lonely 2-way lane on either side of Deck 7, surrounded by ship equipment and hardware, with no view to the sea whatsoever. The ship could also use a center set of elevators. The expansive casino, bars, atrium entertainment, crowds and noise on deck 6 are sometimes bothersome, and the cabins are still weird. But, at the same time, Epic has pretty, nicely decorated public areas, a good size theater, comfortable lounges, a good fitness center, great entertainment, good food and solid service. Maybe because I was really in relaxed vacation mode with my husband, as opposed to cramming my brain with stuff in a long seminar, I enjoyed the ship much more this time around, and had a great time.