October 2014 - Norwegian Epic to Europe - Western Mediterranean
NOTE: All ratings are based on the value of the cruise ship and where NCL places itself in the cruise ship lineup. They are also from spending 21 days aboard the Epic, 7 in the MED and 14 doing a transatlantic crossing and time in the Caribbean.
Boarding was painless, lines in Barcelona were non-existent when we arrived and it took us less than 10 minutes to check in, receive our Key cards and get onto the ship. There was only one snafu, instead of checking us in for our back to back cruises they only checked us for the first cruise, it would have saved us time if they would have checked us in for both cruises but we didn’t mention it so I can’t really blame them. 8 out of 10
Staterooms – we had cabin 12157, an outside midship balcony. The biggest pluses were lots of storage and closet space, we showed up with two large suitcases and a large carryon each. All were stuffed full with clothes and there was ample hanging and storage space for 21 days on board a ship. The second thing we loved was the bathroom- the shower, commode and sink were all separate areas so someone could be using the shower and the other could be using the toilet. The biggest negatives were 1) the bed which was very short, my feet hung off the end and 2) the cabin was narrow so you had to coordinate passing between the bed and dresser/TV area. I also heard complaints about dim lighting in the cabin, while this was never a problem for me I could see it being a problem for those who like bright lights and/or had an inside cabin. 7 out of 10.
DINING- Freestyle is awesome, that’s why so many cruise ships are now doing it but Norwegian led the way with this innovation and their whole freestyle concept is a winner. PRO-TIP Because it’s freestyle you have to learn “when” to dine to avoid any lines. On this ship the peak dining time on the MED cruise was around 6:30 while on the transatlantic it was 7:30.
Breakfast Buffet – Very good selection and the quality was above average 8 out of 10. NOTE: On most freestyle ships, getting food and seating in the buffet section can be challenging during peak times. There was NEVER any problem with long lies or finding seats at the buffet, kudos to the designers.
Breakfast at Taste – Don’t bother, the wait staff is highly untrained. I think they are the newest crew members and are trying to prove that they can be servers. Orders were consistently wrong, eggs over-cooked, items forgotten and it’s the same food that you can get on the buffet sans the salmon benedict which wasn’t very good. Besides the menu never changes and it’s only open to allow people who demand on being served a place to eat. 2 out 10
Lunch Buffet – About average, better than Carnivals about equal to RCCL and not as good as Celebrity. PRO-TIP The Indian food on cruise ships buffets is usually the best items available because many of the behind the scene staff are form India. This ships Indian Entrée’s didn’t disappoint but the Indian bread they served (Roti and Poppadum) was terrible. 5 out of 10
Lunch at Taste – Set dining room menu that doesn’t change, some interesting options but unless you really want table service you are probably better off eating at the buffet. 5 out of 10
Dinner Buffet – Slightly better than the Lunch buffet with different theme nights (Seafood, Spanish, Italian, etc.) PRO-TIP: If all else fails you can still get Indian food for dinner and on one night they featured Indian night which was probably the best food of the cruise. 6 out of 10
Taste/Manhattan Restaurants – Both offer the same menu so only the ambiance is different. I must admit that I was pretty impressed (and I am a foodie) with the entrée’s served there. To be honest I was expecting Carnival food and would have been happy with RCCL food, but this food was better than both of those. PRO-TIP: Stay away from the suggested entrée of the night, these are mass produced and usually the lowest food cost item on the menu. I would have no problem booking a 7 day cruise again and eating in these restaurants. Longer cruises and I would want the UDP (Ultimate Dining Package) so you can eat in the a la carte restaurants. 7 out of 10
O’Sheenan’s – Think an English pub style Applebee’s. If you like frozen, deep-fried, chain restaurant food you may enjoy this place. 3 out 10
Pizza – All cruise ships are offering pizza, very few have any pizza that is any good but I must proclaim that NCL Epic has the worst pizza I’ve ever had on a cruise ship. This is especially sad since we cruised around Italy and had lots of Italians on board. 2 out of 10
Tapas Bar – This may not be a fair review because we spent 7 days in Barcelona eating Tapas almost every day. So while they tried, these tapas were severely lacking compared to what we became accustomed to. If I had just joined the cruise and never had Spanish Tapas before I might have rated this quite a bit higher but unfortunately it only gets a 3 out 10.
DINING – A la Carte
Bonsai Sushi Bar – The best way to describe this is that you are on a Ship that doesn’t catch fish. So they have to buy it in the ports and hold it for service. Therefore freshness (taste and texture) suffer. Personally I would skip the Sashimi and Nigiri and if you are just dying for some Maki do it. But personally I don’t think it’s worth the extra charge. 4 out of 10
Noodle Bar – If you have the dining package it doesn’t make any sense to spend the extra money and have lunch here. The apps, fried rice and stir-fried noodle dishes are the same as on the regular menu. And you get the noodle bowls up in the Garden buffet so all you are paying for is atmosphere for lunch. However they do have an awesome dessert at lunch that I haven’t seen anywhere else, it’s the five spice cake – YUM, stop by for just a slice of that. 4 out of 10 (Dessert 8 out of 10)
DINING – Specialty Restaurants
Cagney’s – Steak Restaurants generally are not my cup of tea, however I went ahead and got the Filet Mignon. It was very good, cooked perfectly, in fact the one thing you have to give them credit for is they know how to cook food to the desired doneness and that includes fish and chicken. BTW, the Sea Bass served there was the best piece of fish I have had on the ship. Couple that with excellent apps, sides and desserts and this was probably the best of all the restaurants. 8 out of 10
La Cucina – One of the better green salads served in the specialty restaurants but the soup was rather pedestrian. Many of the entrees were highly Americanized versions of the Italian counterpart, so if you enjoy olive garden you will probably like this place, otherwise you might want to give it a pass.. PROTIP: The pizza crust, sauce and cheese is the same as the crap served upstairs, they just add better toppings but nothing can save this cardboard box pizza, skip it. If you like chocolate than get the chocolate torte for dessert. 6 out of 10
Le Bistro –Everything we had there was pretty tasty, lamb, duck, steak (same quality as Cagney’s BTW), pork and Coq Au Vin that was just like the one in the little bistro in Paris. 7 out of 10
Moderno – Brazilians Churrascaria’s seem to be a dime a dozen these days. The buffet food was excellent, some of the best appetizers I’ve had. All of the meat was served was pretty tasty and I really liked the Papaya cream dessert, however there was nothing there that made us want to return. NOTE: There was nothing wrong with this place, just not the type of food I am into. 4 out of 10 (when compared to other Churrascarias)
Shanghai’s – Pretty darn good, one of the best Egg drop soups I’ve had in a while. The hot and sour soup needed more vinegar (sour) but it got the heat right. The salt and pepper calamari was one of the best I have had and the steamed Mahi Mahi dish was very similar to a dish I had in Taipei. I will say that this restaurant will not necessarily appeal to those people who eat mall Chinese food or PF Chang’s Fusion crap (you know the people who want lots of food color and Hot and Sour soup that isn’t hot) they are actually much more authentic. They also had some of the best desserts on the ship, try the banana pancake, yum 8 out of 10. PRO-TIP: you will find more officers eating here than any other specialty restaurant so that should tell you about the quality of the food. Also don’t think it’s the same as the garbage they serve on the buffet Night and day difference in quality.
Teppenyaki – It’s a show more than good food. Rating just the food only 4 out of 10
Bottom Line: I wouldn’t get the “ultimate” dining package again, since the food in Taste/Manhatten is equal to or better than some of the sit down restaurants. I would however buy the trio package and eat in Cagney’s and Shanghai a couple of nights IF I was on a 2 week cruise so I could get some different dining experiences.
Very impressed with the entertainment going on throughout the ship, here are some of the highlights.
Cirque Dreams – Very busy, lot’s going on, plus you are eating dinner. While the performers were excellent and audience participation was fun I think eating while watching it really took away from the show. I would rather have just watched than try to have dinner at the same time. Show = 8 out of 10 show and dinner = 6 out of 10.
Blue Man Group – I’ve seen BMG 3 other times and while each show is different they all have some of the same elements. This one did not disappoint and if you like BMG than you will have fun with this show. Highly recommend if you have never seen it, BTW bring the kids they will love it. 8 out of 10.
Legends in Concert – Saw two different shows (Shakira, Diana Ross and Prince) and (Adele, Jimmy Buffet and Aretha Franklin) – Overall these shows were great, Jimmy Buffet was phenomenal, Aretha Franklin had a voice that might have been better than Aretha’s. Adele was the spitting image of her and sounded just like her. 8 out of 10
2nd City – This is intelligent, audience participation entertainment and I could tell that it went over some people’s heads. There shows get more adult in nature as the evening progress’s so you can decide how tame you want it. 8 out of 10
Presumed Murdered Mystery Luncheon ($20 charge) – I had fun, 2nd City did a good job presenting this show and there were some really funny moments. 7 out of 10
Beatles celebration band – They were okay, the audience was the most senior of all the shows so maybe that is why they played at such a loud level. Personally being so loud the music was distorted and we decided to exit the show early but the seniors seemed to love it. 5 out of 10.
Ice Bar – Meh, seems like you are in a walk-in Freezer when compared to other Ice Bar’s I have been in. 3 out of 10.
Pool slides – FUN, you should do them all. 9 out of 10
Bowling – It’s always fun to bowl, ice skate or do something you don’t associate with a cruise ship. It’s pricy though, $7 for one person to bowl a game. I think they would be busier if they lowered the price. 8 out of 10.
Fitness Room – Large with lots of machines and lots of different classes. I only had to wait for a recumbent bike once even though the cruise was filled to capacity.
Deck space is very limited for a ship with 4,000 guests aboard. On sea days you will find virtually all deck chairs claimed by 730 AM. There is probably room for less than 800 people around the main pool and another 100 around the H20 Spice pool. The rest of the guests have to scramble for deck chairs and loungers on less desirable areas and even then you probably have about room for 600 more, many of them in the shade. This was one of the common complaints that I heard aboard and in fairness it is a serious flaw on the ship.
Indoor lounges, most ships seems to have lots of nooks and crannies to escape to, some are large public places with comfy chairs others are small private areas but this ship seemed to have very few of them. In the first few days you could use Moderno, Cagneys or La Cucina as a “secret” hideaway but pretty soon they became overrun with people who couldn’t find deck chairs. So I think a lack of general space for guests on board the ship is lacking.
Fellow passengers, OK this is tough to write about, there are always ‘some’ types aboard every cruise ship but this ship in particular seemed to have more of those ‘types’ than ever. Also they had a bunch of dour English folks on the transatlantic portion that were never happy about anything. I’m not bashing the British, my dad was born in London and most of my relatives live there but I have never seen such a large proportion of whiners and complainers as on this cruise. My theory is that because it was a very cheap cruise those types of people purchased it and were expecting the royal treatment. Sorry folks, I have been on expensive cruises (Seabourn, Crystal, and Regent) and you generally get what you pay for. I was expecting this to be something like Carnival or maybe if lucky like RCCL but I got better than that and at a cheaper price.
The rest of the complaints I heard were pretty petty. Everyone knows that satellite internet speed is slow when compared to high speed land lines. And complaining about table cloths that have wrinkles or that people can smoke in the Casino (OMG – grow up people) As far as the complaints about smoke permeating the ship, that is false, yes you can smell it in the casino and sometimes it wafts a little but as a non-smoker who detests the smell it really was a nonissue.
Overall impression – Pretty darn happy with the value for the money. It wasn’t the Crystal or Seabourn but then again I paid 10% of what a similar cruise on those lines have cost me. It was far better than Carnival, in some ways it was equal to RCL and maybe just a tad lower than Princess but then again I paid hardly anything for this cruise (Cheaper than Carnival offerings) so I would say that I got my money’s worth without a doubt.