The entertainment options on Norwegian Epic have won awards and are truly exceptional. Like most cruise ships, Epic features plenty of open deck amenities, many of them on deck 15. The Aqua Park boasts the first tube and bowl water slide at sea (called The Epic Plunge, it starts from deck 18, drops 200’ (3 decks) through the vortex of the bowl where centrifugal forces allow a few turns in the bowl, before dropping into a splash lane). There are also 2 different coloured water slides – green and purple. One is specifically designed for children and zips through the climbing wall, whereas the other one is a more adventurous slide twisting and turning down three storeys. Although there is no age limit for any of the slides, they are ‘single rider only’.
The Aqua Park also includes two main pools - the rectangular pool is 5’9”deep by the slide exit end, whilst the other pool ranges from 1ft to 4’6” deep. They have illuminated fountains at night. There are also five (very warm) whirlpools, a wading pool and a kid's pool in the children's Splash and Play area which features SplashGolf – the opportunity to play mini crazy golf with the kids and get wet at the same time!
The pools are quite small for the number of people and on sea days the area can get quite crowded and noisy (depending on the number of children enjoying themselves!) As a result one of our stand out areas on the ship, night or day, was the adult only (between 8am and 8pm), quiet zone - Spice H20 (Beach Club). Spanning 2 decks at the back of the ship it has tiered seating ranging from sun loungers, through high bar stools to tables and chairs. There is a small pool (the floor of which gets raised at night) and 2 whirlpools (open until midnight) and a bar. The area features a huge LED screen which shows films and video pictures during the day and at night forms the backdrop for an Ibiza style party or maybe a DJ style Abba tribute session. Situated as it is, it is the ideal place for views of the sunset, the sail aways from ports and the 2017 European Cup Final broadcast live from Cardiff. Although the ship was quite international in its passenger make up, I think most people were cheering on Juventus (unsuccessfully as it turned out!).
If all 164 seats are taken, you can always pop upstairs to deck 17, for further sun loungers, next to the large multi-use sports deck which includes a full size NCAA basketball court, volleyball, soccer, dodge ball, a batting cage, a bungee trampoline and a 24’ tall enclosed climbing cage for children called the Spider Web (8 stone maximum weight limit). Underneath there is the first ever abseiling wall at sea, as well as a 37’ high climbing wall offering varying degrees of difficulty. Tucked away into different corners of the ship are a giant chess set and table tennis tables (both on deck 15) and a shuffleboard court on the port side of deck 7.
Go back inside Epic and you come across the gym on the aft port side of deck 14, next to the Mandara Spa. The gym has cardiovascular equipment, treadmills with TV screens, bikes, steppers and free weights along with a separate studio for classes such as spinning, yoga and pilates and a squash court. There are additional charges for classes and personal training packages. The Mandara Spa houses a wide range of facilities from single sex sauna and steam rooms, through relaxation areas with heated ceramic loungers and a mood lit thalassotherapy pool to 2 jacuzzi whirl pools (making 9 in total on the ship), as well as lots of massage, facial and reflexology treatments, a hair salon (there is also a Barbers Shop aft on deck 7), a Medi Spa for botox and acupuncture and a Smile Spa for teeth whitening. There are 39 spa suites, with private entry to the thermal suite and gym, eight of which feature an in-room whirlpool.
From our very first night on board the standard of entertainment set the tone for the whole week!! The bells and whistles of the next generation, high tech entertainment seen on Royal Caribbean Quantum Class ships may be missing, yet the fact that Epic does not hire its own cast, mesh together a Ship’s Company and put on shows, but hires professional entertainers to bring their land based shows on board (like The Blue Man Group when Epic was launched) means that the standard of performance is as high as you would see in the West End or at a top class concert.
Many of the show lounges on Norwegian Epic are quite small by cruise line standards, but there is nothing like a packed house to generate atmosphere and ensure that everyone has a good time! We went to the Headliners Club (280 seats with a small raised stage, concrete floors, brick walls, a full bar and plenty of standing space) to see ‘Howl at the Moon’ – duelling pianos playing requests all night. OK the jokes were the same on subsequent nights and some of the music, but with a reputed repertoire of 300 songs and lots of audience participation, there was always something new. The venue also hosted ‘The 4 Sea Sons’ - a Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons tribute act, who were excellent, hailed from the UK and played to packed audiences in all venues.
During the week we also went to see ‘Priscilla Queen of the Desert’ in the Epic Theatre (on decks 5 and 6 with seating for 685 guests) – the production was so polished, the set and costumes amazing and the choreography and singing of such a high standard, that it was easy to forget you were on a cruise ship. A trip down memory lane to the Cavern Club (seating approximately 150 people) but with an always full dance floor, large wall mounted pictures of the Fab 4, 331/3 rpm vinyl records set into table tops and a replica of The Cavern Wall of Fame was also hugely enjoyed by all age groups. There was an excellent dance show ‘Burn The Floor’ featuring different genres of dance, but unfortunately it had the gloss taken off it by the superb standard of some of the other offerings and the show lacked a bit of cohesion for me. For completeness sake in the evenings, there was also the opportunity to attend Cirque Dreams Epicurean, in the Spiegel Tent (which in the early days of Norwegian Epic was the venue for character breakfasts with Dora The Explorer and other Nickelodeon characters).
Seating 217 guests, it is a theatrical dining experience with a 3 course set menu and reservations are recommended, even with 2 shows a night on five out of the seven nights of the cruise! Although we did make reservations for some of the shows we went to see, we didn’t find anywhere else to be overly busy – but don’t quote me on that!!
Due to the layout of the ship, you cannot fail to pass through or be impressed by the size of the Epic Casino. It covers 13,000 square feet and mimics the Monte Carlo Casino design. There are 340 slot machines as well as tables for poker, black jack, roulette and craps. There is a Player’s Club Programme for high rollers and Penny Falls (Tipping Point) machines for novices like me!
During the day, entertainment offerings are largely down to Scott, The Cruise Director and his Entertainments team. There were the usual poolside competitions like bean bag throwing, Mr Sexy Legs and sports contests but Epic really comes into its own with the inside amusements held in The Bliss Lounge and also the spectacular Atrium, the centrepiece of which is a large two-storey high-definition video screen with a dance floor type area underneath. The quality of the image is amazing there is always something to watch, be it films, sporting events, ports of call information, interactive games like ‘Deal or No Deal’, Big Screen Suduko, Wii games, karaoke, charades, Dance Classes and even video pictures of places of outstanding natural beauty. If you don’t fancy getting too involved in such activities, you can always sit in O’Sheehan’s and watch from the balcony!
If quiet amusement is more your style, the 2015 refit of Epic introduced a pleasant library with a reasonable selection of books, 6 laptop stations and a card room next door. It is next to the Humidor Cigar Lounge on deck 7. You can also read books and magazines, play cards and board games in Maltings Beer and Whisky Bar, also on deck 7.
Retail therapy takes place when the ship is at sea and there are a range of shops and boutiques selling branded jewellery, branded and cruise clothing, perfumes and cosmetics, all at seemingly sensible prices.
En trende in the Spiegel Tent were sessions of Escape Room type entertainment: the circus is on board, but when an act goes wrong, a magician puts a curse on everyone – solve the clues to ‘Escape -the Big Top’.
NCL is a family orientated cruise line and it has been said that Epic is primarily a children’s ship. Although we sailed at a time when American guests were celebrating their children graduating from High School and it was also within British half term dates, we did not feel that the ship was overrun with children. They were most prominent at meal times, in the family pools and popping in and out of the Children’s Clubs, but not in a disruptive way and any that strayed into ‘Adult Only’ areas were politely removed. Splash Academy is Epic’s complementary children’s programme for kids aged 3-12 years and further divided into age groups: Turtles: 3 - 5 yrs, Seals: 6 - 9 yrs and Dolphins: 10 - 12 yrs.
Below that there is the Guppies group for 6months – 2 year olds (requiring the presence of an adult at all times) and the essentially ‘parent prohibited’ Entourage for teens of 13 – 17 years. Activities include arts and crafts, karaoke, cinema, PlayStation consoles and themed play areas, pool parties and sports, all depending on age. Just by the entrance to Entourage is the Video Arcade, complete with shooting and grab games and bike and car virtual reality video games. In the evenings the Entourage area turns into a teen’s nightclub and the other age groups are also catered for with A Late Night Fun Zone – group baby sitting at an additional charge (between 10.30pm and 1.30am). When the ship is in port parents can avail themselves of the (paid for) Port Play facility and enjoy some ‘child free’ time ashore.
Shore excursions are a major source of income for cruise lines and are typically quite expensive. We had visited some of the ports of call on our itinerary before, so were more than happy to take local public transport to tailor what we wanted to do.
Cities like Rome and Florence are a bit trickier on the face of it, due to their distance from the ship. In both we wanted to do ‘our own thing’ rather than a structured sightseeing tour. In Rome, this would have cost £112.28 pp with NCL (for essentially a coach transfer from and to the ship), £39 pp with an alternative supplier, €29pp by coach from Civitavecchia or €2pp coach to the station in Civitavecchia and then €9pp return by train. Additionally there are always local companies who are available to replicate cruise line shore excursions when you arrive at the port.
We visited Naples and went up Vesuvius (took the Circumvesuviana train, got off at Ercolano Scavia, changed to a local bus that winds up the volcano, then a good half hour of uphill walking on an ash and rock path to the top with stupendous views inside the volcano and across the Bay of Naples). Rome and Florence we did ourselves and armed with a map we covered a lot of ground and got to appreciate just a little of the local culture and ambience. We had to tender in Cannes (ie reach dry land via a lifeboat), which is where we hit the first real snag about cruising on a large ship – by the time we booked a tender we were scheduled to leave the ship at 11am and were wanting to take the train to Monaco.
We were told on board that tenders could have been booked before we cruised – not instantly obvious on the NCL website! This would have scuppered our plans to take the train to Monaco so we jumped into the jacuzzi after breakfast and decided on a shorter trip to Nice. At 9.30am our tender code was called!!!! Surely a ship that is sailing the same itinerary every week has managed to perfect disembarking by tenders better than this!? Thankfully back to plan A and a look round Monte Carlo with the vestiges of the Grand Prix still in evidence, only a few days after Sebastian Vettel’s win.
Experience wise, I have come to the conclusion that no cruise line is interested in guests on disembarkation day!! We disembarked Norwegian Epic at 08.30 hrs for a flight at 15.55 hrs. Whilst I appreciate that cabins need to be vacated early on the turn round day, I struggle to understand why guests cannot remain in the public areas until a little later – taking a transfer which would still fit in with the incoming flights/embarkation arrival for the next cruise. However, NCL are not alone in doing this!! Things didn’t get much better as we were travelling home with Brussels Airways (the only Star Alliance member I am aware of that does not offer passengers a complementary drink on flights) and via Brussels Airport (offering a standard and pricing reminiscent of a UK motorway service station).
I hope that I have written this warts and all. Norwegian Epic is an amazing ship and has been described as ‘Las Vegas at sea’, offering a floating entertainment resort style experience. She is ideal for the young, the young at heart and families looking for an informal, ‘fun’ time. Our cruise on Norwegian Epic suited each and every member of our party and we have all come away with many happy memories and expectations exceeded. I would definitely sail with NCL again.