First sight of Norwegian Epic – 15 public decks, 156,000 tonnes and 4100 guests, docked at Terminal A, Muelle Adosado, Barcelona. Epic has inside cabins or balconies, so no cabins with a port hole or window. As a result, a lot of the public spaces are on decks 5 – 7 (ie. below the level of the lifeboats) and this unfortunately produces a rather ugly side profile as all the balcony cabins are on decks 8 and upwards and the line is unbroken by other features.
First night on board and the entertainment sets the tone for the whole week!!
Went to the Headliners Club and ‘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 – 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 perfect day to explore the ship and enjoy every aspect:
Norwegian Epic was one of the first cruise ships to have amongst other things a bowling alley on board, a multi slide Aqua Park with the largest bowl slide at sea and a big top (Spiegel Tent). The Mandara Spa on board is one of the biggest at sea and there is also a full sized NCAA basketball court, the usual large gym and fitness suites, a 2 storey sports complex with rock climbing walls and a bungee trampoline and even a SplashGolf interactive mini golf game.
The public spaces within Epic exude the impression of spaciousness – the Guest Services area is huge. Many of the areas stretch the full width of the ship (for example O’Sheehans Bar & Grill and the casino) and guests are not funnelled down narrow walk ways in between different locations. Despite there being 4000+ guests on board, you never felt as if you were in a crowd.
As we had visited the area before, we decided to take the train from Naples (a 20 minute walk to the station from the ship) to Vesuvius. All the ports we visited had Tourist Information points within the Cruise Terminal buildings, so independent sightseers could get maps and other information. Take the Circumvesuviana train and get off either at Ercolano Scavia or Pompeii Scavia (depending on the direction of travel). From there, pick up a local bus that winds up the volcano. It stops short of the top and there is then a good half hour of uphill walking on an ash and rock path to the top with stupendous views inside the volcano or the Bay of Naples.
Although we travelled in half term and there were children on board, the facilities for them are so good, that they tended to be neither seen, nor heard (too much!) The Kid’s Clubs are Splash Academy (3-12 years) and Entourage (13- 17 years) but there is also a Video Arcade and a children’s area in the Aqua Park. Infants from 6 months are allowed in the Splash Academy, but accompanied by a parent.
The port for Rome is Civitavecchia, about an hours drive from the city, but dependent on traffic. We opted for a ‘Rome on Your Own’ type excursion as again, we had visited the city before and did not want to repeat some of the sights. This type of excursion is useful, as you are guaranteed to get back to the ship in time for its departure but can very much ‘do your own thing’ whilst there.
It could have been hotter in Rome, but we made that the excuse for visiting another ‘first’ on board upon our return – the Svedka Ice Bar. There is a choice of cocktails available, served in ice glasses and you need to dress accordingly for the extreme cold, even though a cape and gloves are provided, shorts and flip flops are not necessarily the best choice of dress! This is one of the bars which is NOT included in the new ‘Premium All Inclusive’ fare offered by NCL, as drinks cost over $15. There are upwards of 10 other watering holes on Norwegian Epic ranging from O’Sheehan’s pub and the Atrium Café, through the Shakers martini and champagne bar and Maltings whisky bar to Spice H20 and Waves bar on deck and nothing like a frozen cocktail or the cocktail of the day to remind you that you are back on board. NCL have recently launched a more encompassing drinks package on all their ships, as a permanent feature : ‘Premium All Inclusive’ is available for all passengers even 3rd & 4th guests in cabins and children and includes all drinks up to $15/serving, as well as 1 bottle of water per person/day left in your cabin and selected speciality (Lavazza) coffees served in restaurants at mealtimes.
Similar to Rome/Civitavecchia, Livorno is the port used for shore excursions to Florence, Pisa and Cinque Terre (although La Spezia is closer for the latter). Again we did ‘Florence on Your Own’ and spent a lovely day exploring the side streets and small piazzas of this genteel city. Having left our Fitbits at home, we had to guess how far we had walked, but again, another excuse to visit one of the many restaurants on board and kid ourselves that we had burnt off sufficient calories to do the menu full justice!
There are 2 main restaurants open for dinner – The Manhattan Room and Taste (also open for breakfast and lunch) as well as the 24/7 restaurant – O’Sheehans (serving cooked breakfast in the morning), The Garden Café (buffet restaurant open for all 3 meals and always offering Indian selections, a Kids Corner (mac and cheese, pasta, sausages, burgers and fries) and in the evening a themed buffet), The Great Outdoors – an outdoor extension of the Garden Café serving an Early Risers breakfast, as well as late night snacks (nachos and cheese, beef enchiladas and cookies when I went). Other complimentary eateries include the open deck grills and Shanghai’s Chinese Restaurant and Noodle Bar. NCL’s ‘freestyle dining’ concept – offered on their ships a long time before the option of ‘Anytime dining’ was made available on other lines, works well. Regardless of whether we had pre booked or not, we rarely waited more than 10 minutes for a table. There are also some speciality restaurants on board where you pay either an a la carte or a fixed price supplement. We tried Cagney’s Steakhouse and the Italian La Cucina.
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 made plans to go to Nice instead, but actually disembarked Epic sooner than expected and so reverted to a slightly curtailed plan A. The train from Cannes to Monaco hugs the coastline, through Nice, Antibes, Juan Les Pins (as featured in the Peter Sarstedt song), Villefranche (where ‘Freedom of the Seas’, was anchored in the bay) to Monaco (where ‘Queen Elizabeth’ was moored). It was interesting to see the vestiges of the Grand Prix: the empty viewing galleries and press boxes, the used tyre piles and the remnants of rubber on the tight corners. We walked up to Monaco Ville (the old town) where the Palace is and celebrated with a crepe before getting back on the train and enjoying an ice cream along the harbour front in Cannes (overlooking the boule area).
Back to the ship and our cabins, mid ships on deck 12. The balcony cabins on Norwegian Epic divide opinion – they encompass a unique wavy style so that everything has curves (even the beds!) The conventional bathroom has been deconstructed so that the wash basin is in the main body of the cabin and the shower and loo split into 2 separate compartments opposite each other. Some cabins have a curtain to divide the bed and bath areas, providing a modicum of privacy. This feature has not been continued on newer NCL ships however. The settee makes a very slim 3rd bed. But the balcony was a good size, when compared to those on other contemporary, mainstream cruise ships. We had 2 cabins next to each other and they were different (so that the curves fit together a bit like a jigsaw). The drawers in our cabin were very narrow, but there were 27 coat hangers, more than adequate for 3 people! A further first for Epic was the creation of the 100 sq ft single inside Studio cabins for solo travellers complete with their own Studio Lounge. Topping the accommodation is The Haven – the all suite complex of the ship, on the top 4 decks (decks 16 -19). There are a selection of suites as well as a private bar, restaurant and sundeck, perhaps mimicking the Grills experience on Cunard ships.
The port in Palma is about a 40 minute walk along the front, to the Cathedral area, so we decided to pay for a shuttle bus transfer to opposite the Cathedral. We were only in port half a day, arriving at 1pm – just at siesta time and on a Saturday, so that the Cathedral was shut. Although much of the area round the Old Town and the Cathedral is pedestrianised, many of the shops are well known international brands and so the area has lost a bit of its olde worlde Majorcan charm, the horse carriage rides not withstanding. There are a few typically Spanish buildings, including the one currently occupied by the Real Madrid superstore (opposite a much smaller one selling shirts and other memorabilia for RCD Mallorca (playing in the Spanish 2nd division).
We returned to the ship for our final night and a date with my favourite area of the ship – Spice H20 – from 8am – 8pm, an adult only, quiet zone with a small pool, 2 (very) hot tubs, plenty of sun loungers in a tiered arrangement and a bar and self service grill type outdoor restaurant. At night the sun loungers are put away, the pool covered over and the area is ready for an Ibiza style party or maybe a DJ style Abba tribute session. Situated at the very back of the ship, with a large LED screen (for films and videos) 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 wanted Juventus to win!
An early and last breakfast at The Garden Café (Bircher muesli and fruit) and then disembarkation. Am I being slightly churlish to think that all cruise lines (not just NCL) are really only concerned with the guest experience once on their ships?
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.
Nevertheless, 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.