We're back! As part of the cruise industry's #CruiseMonth, with week 1 focusing on Europe we decided to take ourselves off for a week on board Norwegian Cruise Line's Epic around the Mediterranean, our first time with NCL. We've been posting on FB & Twitter but here's what we thought about life onboard this huge ship.
Things We LOVE about Epic
⦁ Dining Options and quality of food - food was excellent all over the ship. Buffet ran themed nights, Irish bar O'Sheehans served comfort food 24/7, The Taste and Manhattan main restaurants were excellent. Then there was the speciality restaurants on top including the 'typical' Italian & Steakhouse options but also a Brazilian restaurant which was a different and welcome option. To be able to eat what you want when you want it at table sizes of your choice is also a great feature - it's all part of NCL's 'freestyle cruising' ethos. ⦁ Variety of Bars & Lounges - Plenty of places to sit and have a drink, take in the atmosphere. Particular favourites were Headliners (home to Howl at the Moon amongst other shows and events) and Maltings Beer & Whiskey Bar, a cosy little spot often passed on the way to the elevators on deck 7. ⦁ Entertainment - quality and variety - see post earlier this week on FB - Howl at the Moon musicians & Burn the Floor Dance Show are 2 of the best entertainment offerings we've ever seen at sea. Priscilla Queen of the Desert Broadway show and Beatles performances at the Cavern Club are fantastic. Cirque Dreams dinner show, Musical groups and solo acts, gameshows and quizzes all complete a brilliant entertainment line up. ⦁ Things to do - So many we couldn't do them all! Every day is packed with activities, and then the ship offers so much that you can't fit everything in particularly when you've an itinerary that goes to so many great ports allowing you access to the likes of Barcelona, Rome, Florence, Cannes, Monte Carlo, Pisa, Majorca.... ⦁ Premium All Inclusive is a brilliant selling point. All drinks (premium brands with liberal measures) up to $15 are included in the ultimate premium all inclusive drinks package and it does take the sour taste of the bar bill on the last day away. The same applies to the included gratuities. Also includes 1l bottled water per day (which strangely is delivered to your cabin all at once on day 1 so if 2 of you that's 14 bottles you need to find somewhere for) and your premium coffees (slightly disappointed us that Atrium Café coffees are not included which is strange and unnecessary. Staff had to explain to several customers they would be charged despite having drinks packages with the coffees included.) Premium All Inclusive makes things so much easier, such a good product - NCL please don't complicate it!!! ⦁ Excellent & Friendly staff all over the ship! Our room steward Christian was attentive, not intrusive and we never had so many towel animals in one cruise! Restaurant staff were friendly, chatty and happy, the greeters at the buffet have created their own legend ('Washy washy, smiley smiley') and loved by everyone on the ship. Guest services were helpful and to assist with queues there was always someone moving up and down line to make sure that you were in the correct line if they couldn't help you themselves. Staff very visible and on more than one occasion cruisers were greeted by staff from across the departments either as they existed a show or returning to the ship (the return from Livorno was great with DJ, crew forming a dancing guard of honour, fresh facecloths, drinks and ice pops on your return were also the norm to keep you cool) ⦁ Cabins (in particular studio cabins and lounge) are fair size, well thought out, well presented and comfortable - from insides to balcony's! In saying that some may have an issue with the lack of a separate bathroom quite how you'd expect, it's more of a curtain divide in the room with frosted glass doors to shower and toilet. The sink is actually the other side of the curtain with bed/wardrobes etc. Personally it didn't bother us and we thought it made it a little quirky but some may not feel that way. We didn't get to see the suites unfortunately however the solo studios are excellent and along with the studio lounge make sure that solo cruisers don't feel like 2nd class citizens! In fact with their own styles of cabin and personal lounge they should feel more valued than any other cruise line - see our FB article on NCL for solo travellers earlier this week.
Gripes - We Have Some...
Note, these gripes may not be an issue to everyone, to others they might even be a positive, but they may affect some so they are worth noting.
⦁ No Mid-Ship Lifts so you always have to go to end of ship - not the end of the world of course but something that becomes noticeable quickly. Find yourself on the wrong deck then you need to go to one end of the ship to get stairs or lifts to the correct deck - though there are escalators between 5-6 and some stairs between 6-7 in the casino area..... ⦁ Casino area dominates Deck 6 spanning a large percentage of the deck and you have no option but to walk through it to get to bars or theatres at either end. If you enjoy your casino then it's happy days however bear in mind that this is also a smoking area and if you have children they are also passing through it. Something to consider. ⦁ Alternative dietary dining options were disappointing. For example there was no GF option in the buffet unless you wanted jelly (proudly proclaimed as GF). There was a small sign stating you could ask for GF options and we did to test but without any success as we were told on both days there was no GF dough so no pizza, bread etc. While there appeared to be slightly more vegetarian options on the face of it we observed one lady spending several minutes with a member of staff (albeit helpful) going around the buffet area trying to explore what if any vegetarian options there were. Quite frustrating if you only want to grab a quick spot of lunch or a bite to have to have an in-depth analysis and conversation just to choose something to eat while the rest of your group have sat and well started eating. Main restaurant menus do mark if something is GF or V but options are very limited and there is no suggestion that even for example a Caesar Salad can be 'adapted'. In short other cruise lines do it better - much better. ⦁ No Promenade Deck and no area on front of ship to view, not a biggie but it's nice to be able to walk around the ship and take in the views of your port, the sea, other ships etc. Also bear in mind there seems to be an industry trend to take us closer to the sea, think MSC Seaside/Seaview or Celebrity Edge so in that regard this is a little different with not so many options to enjoy the views. ⦁ Pools! There are not enough pools and / or there are not big enough pools given the number of people on board. There are 3 pools available excluding the Haven area but 2 are narrow and not particularly long and the other at the back of the ship is a small square. There are 7 Jacuzzi baths of 6 persons or so - that's less than 50 people out of approximately 4000 so it can be difficult to get access to enjoy. ⦁ There was a lack of any great cocktail menu, a very limited soft drinks menu and an absence of any mocktail menu. Ok, so there were cocktails, it varied per bar but there really felt like there was a fairly limited choice in comparison to other cruise lines we've seen. The soft drink options were also limited although you do have a couple of juice options in the
buffet. 4 red bull options were listed in the 'Non Alcoholic' section of the menu alongside pepsi, sprite and orange. There were no mocktail options to be seen with the exception of the Ice Bar (a $20 supplement). There is definitely something to be looked at here. ⦁ Excursions - watch out for our post on shore excursions in coming days - quite simply the excursions offered by NCL on this itinerary are extortionate and other options should be pursued.
So why should you consider NCL? Why should you consider Epic?
Well, firstly, you definitely should consider both so lets be clear on that straightaway despite our gripes. NCL are offering a fantastic product, a premium all inclusive product that is akin to the ultimate all inclusive resort...just at sea! The freestyle cruising concept is aligned with this, so you can dine where you want when you want at table sizes of your choice. You can wear what you want when you dine too (within reason!!) as there are no formal nights on board and really the only requirements in main dining areas are a pair of trousers (as opposed to shorts) and closed toe shoes, not flip flops! If this style of cruising appeals, you love your entertainment offering, you like big ships with a great range of things to do, you like a choice of restaurants and all inclusive bars then you need to look at NCL as this may well be the perfect cruise line for you.
If you prefer something a little more formal, a little more traditional or a balance of both then maybe other cruise lines should be considered first, or maybe a conversation needs to be had with your agent as to what you're looking to get out of your next holiday.
However we said it before and having sailed on her, we say the same thing - the Epic, given it's current Mediterreanean itinerary (which is repeated throughout the summer season again in 2018), given everything thats included for the price, is a fantastic ship for the Irish market.
Prices (at time of post)
Epic returns to the Mediterranean April 2018 for the summer season with 7 nights fly cruise starting at around €1400 - €1500 (Various dates available within this price in particular April or October) Premium All Inclusive. In the meantime Epic will be cruising around the Caribbean with cruise only prices from a very reasonable €819 for 7 nights (December 17). You could also consider the repositioning voyages that offer even better value - eg currently showing €1919 for 15 nights Orlando to Barcelona cruise only.