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NORWEGIAN EPIC – WESTERN CARIBBEAN  - FEBRUARY 5, 2011

So having recently toured the LARGEST ship at sea, I wanted to see what the closest competition was like.  The EPIC, is the third largest cruise ship behind the OASIS of the SEAS and the ALLURE of the SEAS. 

I also felt it was time to cruise with NCL (Norwegian Cruise Line) because it has been a good 13 years since my last cruise with them and I have other colleagues who have had a lot of bad experiences with the line.  I’m glad to have experienced the EPIC.

THE SHIP:

She is absolutely beautiful, she holds approximately 4000 passengers and currently sails alternating Western & Eastern Caribbean itineraries, this summer she will be venturing off to Europe.  The overall décor of the ship is beautiful, nothing too ornate, nothing overdone.  It all just flows very elegantly.  It’s not gaudy or distasteful at all.   

THE STATEROOMS:

Staterooms are different.  They designed these to have a curve in the wall so that there is more of a circular feeling to them vs. a block; and the bathroom is not really a room.  You have a stand alone shower and a toilet cubby area on each side of the front door as you walk in and then as you get just past those you have your sink with medicine cabinet, which is just one step away from the bed.  There is not a lot of wiggle room around the bed and with two of us in the cabin we did find we had to get out of each other’s way often when getting ready for the day or evening.  The closet is all the way in near the balcony and although I did like the layout of the closet and the great amount of space, Most people would want their clothes close to the shower/bathroom area.   I know that my cabin could accommodate a third person on the couch, but I would never recommend it, there just is not enough room for three people.   The balcony was a good size- we once again had an aft-facing balcony and this time it fell in between the size of our gigantic balcony on Celebrity Infinity and our smaller, disappointing balcony on the MSC Poesia.  I know it’s a gamble with those locations, but I still love that view!    I do think that NCL will find that the bathroom idea is going to cost them in the long run, the ship is not quite a year old yet and the entry way of our cabin floor was bubbled- from water dripping when one gets out of the shower- it can’t be helped.  I did not get a chance to view the Villas, but did get a picture of their Private Courtyard by taking one from the fence above.

THE DINING:

NCL is known for its freestyle cruising.  This means that there are no real dress codes each night, if you want to dress formally you can, but it’s not a requirement.  I was surprised to see some people did dress up a few nights.  It was nice to see, but oh so nice to not have to pack all that stuff!   Got away with packing three pairs of shoes – flip flops, tennis shoes and dancing boots!   That has NEVER happened before for us!   Anyway, there are three everyday restaurants that are included in your cruise fare and you either make reservations each night or walk up and wait for a table.  If you decide to wait, you are given a beeper so that you can do something else while you wait.   The Manhattan Room & Taste  have identical menus each night, but their atmospheres are different.  The Manhattan Room is like a New York Supper Club, with a five piece band playing and a nice dance floor for anyone wanting to dance while they dine.   Taste is more contemporary and located in the middle of all the action.  There is no “roof” for this dining venue, so the deck above can look down at those dining.    Garden Café is the buffet venue offering many choices and no waiting time.   So there are plenty of options if you decide you do not want to pay for any specialty restaurants.   I should also add that the Sushi Bar and Noodle Bar are also free of charge and suitable for lunch or dinner.

There are many venues that you can dine at that charge a fee.  Cagney’s Steakhouse,  Moderno Brazilian Steakhouse,  La Cucina Italian, Teppanyaki Japanese,  Shanghai Chinese,  Le Bistro French and then there is also the Cirque Dreams & Dinner Show.  The surcharges for these venues range from $10-$35 per person.   We experienced ALL of these and I can honestly say right now that I am in a serious food COMA and in need of a DIET as I return home.  All meals were fabulous, service was stellar and the wine selections varied from venue to venue and were all very good and not badly priced.   The Cirque Dreams & Dinner show was very entertaining and we did pay for Premium Seating; however, where we were actually seated I didn’t think was all that Premium and they do pack people in pretty tight. 

The Cirque Dreams show is located in the Speigle Tent and is not offered every night.  Also in the Speigle Tent, offered a few times during the week is a murder mystery, inter-active lunch show called “Presumed Murdered”- we also did that and it was excellent.  It was a lot of fun and a lot of laughs.  I would suggest saving that for the last sea day because the weather tends to be iffy on the last sea day of so many tropical cruises. 

Throughout the ship you will find flat screen televisions that will list the various dining venues and the reservation times available, which makes it really easy if you have not already planned your dining schedule.   Most nights you could get into any of the specialty dining rooms.

Of course there are many lounges and bars about the ship, but one to make note of is the ICE BAR, which is a fee based room and it is 17 degrees in temperature- you pay $20 and are given two drink coupons and a heavy coat and gloves to wear inside.  You have up to an hour to spend in there, but most people drink quickly and get out~  IT’S COLD!  The drinks are all make with Vodka, so the choices are limited and they also have Ice Wine to offer.  It was fun to experience.

ENTERTAINMENT:

This cruise ship has the BLUE MAN GROUP on board and they perform many shows during the week, it is free and very entertaining.   The SECOND CITY comedy troop is also on board and they perform multiple times during the week and it is improv at its best!    The LEGENDS in Concert is supposed to be very good- we were supposed to see it one night, but it conflicted with a “Dancing with the EPIC stars” activity that we wanted to see. 

Additionally, there is the Howl at the Moon, dueling pianos show that is a drop in over the course of 4 hours a few nights during the cruise and the guys are pretty funny.  They will play requests and make some jokes along the way, all in all very entertaining.

DANCING was not as great as we would have liked.  They have two venues for the Decade Themed dance parties and nightly DJ music:  the Spice H2O venue which is outdoors, it’s actually the adult pool area by day and is transformed to a nightclub at night.  Nice concept, but for serious dancers like ourselves with good, leather or suede soled shoes, the pool area floor was always damp and that is not conducive to our country dancing and is damaging to our good dance shoes.  We did dance there a little bit several nights, but you just don’t slide on the floor like you need to in that venue.  The other venue is Bliss Ultra Lounge and that was probably THE WORST dance floor we’ve ever had on a cruise ship.  It was  so sticky it was painful to try to dance.   What we did end up doing was dance on the carpet off in a corner of the Bliss lounge.    It worked, but it was a bit too slick and presented a challenge to not fall flat!

The ATRIUM lounge had the best dance floor, but they had a very boring duo playing there each evening for 3-4 hours, 45 minutes on , 15 minute break and for the 45 minutes, usually 1/3 of that time was just the keyboard player.  They played the same songs night after night- absolutely no variety.  Once again a cruise line puts in a beautiful wood floor and it gets underutilized.

The CASINO is spread out along Deck 6, so if you want to walk through the ship on Deck 6 from one end to the other, you are going to pass through the casino- it’s everywhere pretty much.  I gambled more on this cruise that I have on many others and I think it was due to the combination of always passing by the Let It Ride Table and not having many dancing options.  I will say that a nice Full House mid-week kept me playing with their money the entire time!

There are also activities for the kids that center around the Nickelodian Network and characters!

OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES:

Of course there is a nice main pool area for families, singles, couples- everyone and the Caribbean band will normally play the afternoons poolside.  There are three pretty amazing water slides and I regret not having taken the time to try them out.  The first day at sea was a bit windy and I didn’t want to get wet and then be in the wind and then I got sick the next day with a cold and just didn’t think it was a wise idea to get wet.  There is also the Adult area- Spice H2O with a big screen TV and music playing throughout the day.   The pool is small, simply made for dipping.  On a sea day that is sunny, it can be hard to find a lounge chair in this area of the ship.    There are plenty of other decks though all about the ship with deck chairs. 

This ship has a ROCK CLIMBING wall, which is pretty basic, not as big as some of the competition ships out there.  They have a basketball court and also a large trampoline for suspended jumping tricks.  I will also add for anyone who watched “Undercover Boss” when the CEO of NCL went undercover- at that time the ship was offering ice skating and it was a make shift rink on the basketball court that nobody ever used ~ they aren’t doing that anymore.

FITNESS/SPA:

I was extremely impressed with the fitness facility- beautiful wood flooring throughout and  a dedicated spin room with computerized tracking devices so you can see what everyone is doing in class.  A dedicated group exercise room and also a dedicated seminar room.   There is another training area for group classes using the TRX training system and Kettle Ball boot camp.  I would have liked to try some of their classes because in talking to the instructors on the first day, once I found that she had a Les Mills background with certifications, I knew she would be a quality instructor.   The times of the classes just didn’t work into my schedule, although they did not restrict their classes to early morning only.  On sea days they did have some mid-afternoon classes but we usually sleep in until noon on sea days and get up have lunch and lounge pool side.  A couple of evening classes, but we already had conflicting dinner reservations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SERVICE:

This is a new ship, so you should be able to expect excellent service throughout.  The best of the best who have worked for the cruise line on other ships are sent to run the new ship.  Overall, I would say service was pretty good.  The dining venues had amazing service.  Our cabin steward was pretty good, there were a few things that I think he should have just done automatically; however,  whenever we requested anything, he always came through for us.   Bar service was always pretty good; although many venues would really try to push buying a bottle of wine instead of a glass and about how much cheaper it was to do that, I thought it was nice to have the suggestion once or twice, but did not need repeating over and  over. 

Speaking of wine, NCL does offer a wine program, but when we looked at the wine choices, it was very slim in choices and we really preferred the expansive choices given at each restaurant.  We were able to try quite a few different, good wines.   They also didn’t really push their wine program, usually you walk on board the ship and they are shoving that down your throats. 

PORTS OF CALL:

We did the Western Caribbean ports of Costa Maya Mexico, Roatan Honduras and Cozumel Mexico.  We stayed on the ship for Costa Maya, nothing that was offered was of real interested to us.  We enjoyed a relatively peaceful day on board the ship.    Roatan, we did an island tour that was very informative and did show us a lot of the island- all 44 miles of it!   Cozumel, having been there before, we opted to repeat an excursion that we did last year in Mazaltan- SALSA & SALSA.  The Dancing Chefs recently opened up their location in Cozumel and we decided that would be the excursion for us- we had just as much fun this time as we did the last- making 7 different salsas and 2 different kinds of margaritas. 

Getting on and off the ship was always easy and quick, so you’d never know you were on a ship with 4000 passengers. 

SUMMARY:

Would I cruise with NCL again?  Yes, on the newer ships I think I would be happy and I would cruise on the EPIC again but hope that the dancing would improve. 

Where did this rank overall compared to other cruises?  Definitely ranks  one of the tops for food choices and quality.    And sadly, one of the bottoms for dancing.     

Compared to its direct competitor?  I would choose ALLURE or OASIS of the SEAS first before sailing on the EPIC again.   The key factor being the better dancing on Royal Caribbean’s largest ships.

PROS?  I think the Freestyle way of cruising is a huge appeal for many and it was nice to not have to think about what to pack or to pack too much stuff!   Having a lot of choices for dining and entertainment each night is also very nice

CONS?  You could really run up a hefty tab with all of the  of the specialty dining charges.  I wish they would eliminate those fees and just increase the overall cruise fare a bit more.  Then require reservations and charge a no-show fee if reservations are not canceled within a designated time.  However, obviously people pay and have been for several years now, so my opinion is not going to change that. 

It was a very good cruise, happy we did it.

To see more pictures of the Norwegian Epic- click here:

Norwegien Epic 2011