October 2014 - Norwegian Epic to Transatlantic
This cruise aboard the Epic was a first for us as both a Transatlantic crossing and our first time on the Epic - in fact first time on any ship of that size. Our dozen plus other cruises had been mostly on Radiance class size ships on different ships and lines. So there were some surprises - not all of them pleasant.
For the most part it was a beautiful ship, though somewhat plain. The crew was mostly excellent. We did experience some rudeness from customer service on one occasion, otherwise all of our experiences with the crew were wonderful. They were friendly and helpful, hardworking and good at what they do. We had read some negative feedback prior to cruising regarding the crew, however that was not our experience. In fact we met a certain hostess (Analiza General) at the Noodle Bar near the beginning of the cruise who then remembered us and called us by name each time we saw her after that - amazing!
The lack of artwork to decorate the ship's public spaces was disappointing. Where on other ships there is art on all the stairway landings (and throughout the ship), there was only brightly colored - what looked like sheets of Lucite with a huge oval mirror in the center on each landing. The décor was plain with a modern feel, not the usual elegant nautical décor found on many older ships we have been on. We did like the glass artwork in our cabin - very fresh and pretty.
While we had heard and read many bad reviews regarding the layout of the staterooms, we found our stateroom to be beautiful and well appointed with ample storage. The bathroom near the door is where ours has been in most of our previous cabins, the shower on one side with curved, frosted glass doors and the toilet on the other side, also with sliding, frosted glass doors. We did end up with a cabin where the bed was just off the balcony rather than next to the bathroom, so that may have been why we were happy with the layout. Some, depending on which way the wall curved, had the bed very near the bathroom. Our steward, Romel was wonderful and kept our cabin at its best. Our balcony was fine, however we had standard deck chairs and we saw later on in the cruise some lounge chairs where just the back leaned back a bit with no footrest. That would have been preferable since one of the downsides we encountered on the Epic was NO quiet public space and we would have spent much more time on our balcony if the chairs had reclined some and been more comfortable.
Public spaces - most of the bars had good music most evenings; a wonderful guitar player in Maltings, a piano player in Shakers, a husband wife team who provided excellent dance music in the Atrium most nights. No lack of entertainment, but all too loud for decent conversation and the more the conversation level went up, the louder the music got. No place, including the main dining room, The Manhattan Room, could there be conversation without shouting. Taste, the other main dining room, was better and of course the specialty restaurants were wonderful; quiet and peaceful. There was the Bliss lounge on deck 7 forward which was quiet when there was nothing else going on in there, however we found it to feel dirty and too dark. All the chairs appeared to be stained and dirty.
The entertainment was very good. There is no large song and dance troupe doing two shows a night in a huge theater. There was a good sized theater, but it was only large enough to hold about a quarter of the passengers at a time. There was a Beatles tribute group who was excellent and played almost nightly in a small jazz club (Fatcats) where there was never enough room for everyone who wanted to see them perform, so the ship finally put them - for one show in the Epic theater at noon and it was amazing. Really, really good! Then there was Blue Man group, a Cirque knock-off called Cirque Dreams and Dinner in what is called the Spiegel Tent. These performers were fun - full of energy and very talented, performing tableside. Food was only so-so. There were two separate Legends in Concert groups, Howl at the Moon and Second City with different shows. The one thing to be aware of when sailing the Epic is you need to go on the first day, to the Box office on Deck 7 forward and sign up for all your entertainment if you have specific plans on what groups you want to see. We did this so not sure how others who were not aware of how this worked, did when trying to book the entertainment. As for us we were able to see almost all the entertainment and sometimes, twice. There were the Supreme Dreamgirls, a tribute to Motown music (The Supremes), but something happened with Visa's from what we heard and they cancelled for the remainder of the cruise so we did not get to see them...heard they were good, though. No lack of free entertainment.
There was a wonderful hypnotist - Nadeen Manuel - on the ship who did several shows for entertainment and then a generous number of free seminars on pain management, weight management (on the last day of the cruise :o) and self-hypnosis. She was great and we enjoyed her so much! Highly recommend seeing her if you have the chance.
Bowling - there were two three lane alleys onboard, one next to the Irish Pub/complimentary dining venues in O'Sheehan;s and one in the Bliss lounge. The cost we thought ridiculous at $7.00 per game. Other passengers must have thought the same since there was almost never anyone bowling. When we first heard of bowling on the Pearl, we heard it was $3.00 - much more reasonable. Like the photos, it has always been our belief that if the cost was reasonable, they would sell so many more. Not sure why they insist on keeping prices so high. Internet - there was a very nice internet café on deck 5 with wireless available all over the ship, what there wasn't any of was any service. We bought 100 minutes since it was our plan to keep in touch with family via email. Not sure if it was because we were at sea for so many days at a time (Hello satellite!) or just too many people all trying to use it at the same time, but it was pathetic. The manager was very good at returning minutes to our account when we couldn't connect which was almost daily, however what we wanted was to be able to be in touch with family and friends.
Food was very good...We didn't think the specialty restaurants were worth the extra money except to have the peaceful dining experience. We tried Cagney's, the Noodle Bar, Teppenyaki and Moderno. All the food was good - but so was ALL the food. There were no lobster nights or shrimp cocktails or Escargot offered. All portions were much smaller than on previous cruises, but I'm guessing a second could have been ordered if it was not enough. We did not need to do this however, as there was enough for our appetites.
Ports of call: Barcelona was amazing and we would definitely love to go back there and spend a little more time. The architecture was beautiful and the city was clean and lovely. Two days at sea and then Funchal, Madeira. What a beautiful island!! It had cobblestone streets with plenty of old world charm. Loved it there! Six more days at sea then St. Maarten. It was soo good to be on land again. we had been to St. Maarten many times, and always like it there. Then St. Thomas the next day. Again, we are familiar with St Thomas, so we did an excursion through the ship on a sailing catamaran - snorkeling to Turtle Cove off Buck Island. It was the perfect day for that and Capt. Joe and his crew were great hosts. Then two more days at sea and we landed in Miami where it rained for two days.
All in all, I would recommend the Epic but the reason for my long review is so if you are considering it, you are aware of what it has to offer. We made good friends on this voyage as we usually do. We walked daily on sea days (the walking/jogging track is on the starboard side only and does not circle the ship as most do - disappointing). We never went hungry and were well entertained. We didn't mention the Epic Bounce or the rock climbing wall or the water slides which seemed to be functioning fine for the first part of the cruise but then not so much for the last few days. Then there were the discourteous lounge chair hogs - always a major irritant - wish there was a way to fix that problem. We did not pay for spa services. Heard on the last day of the cruise we could have spent an additional $200 and had use of the spa (therapy pool and steam room, etc.) however we had heard something different - more like $100/day. It wasn't that important to us, but would have probably saved us some aggravation on sea days.
So all that to say we probably will stick to smaller ships for future cruises. While all the processes (embarkation, etc.,) were smooth and fairly quick and overall not too much waiting in lines, we prefer the more varied itineraries the smaller ships are able to offer.