Norwegian EPIC Review – The Outstanding, The Average, But Also the Fair
It was our first time. Our premiere. We had never sailed with Norwegian before, the freestyle company or as they simply say, “Freestyle Cruising”. Considering that, our expectations were high. In the end it didn’t disappoint us. And despite many high points, others were just underwhelming…
On this report we’ll tell you all about our premiere in the Norwegian Epic, a 153 thousand tons cruise ship with capacity for 4100 passengers. If it wasn’t for the giant Allure of the Seas, from Royal Caribbean, it would have been the biggest cruiser ship sailing the Mediterranean in 2015.
The main motivation for choosing this cruise was, essentially, to be able to know the Norwegien Epic and Norwegian itself. Known and acclaimed by its “Freestyle Cruising”, where there are no fixed schedules or rigid dress codes, where we eat when and how we want to, as simple as that, at least in theory. The American company (although with Nordic origin) has also revealed itself to have a strong sense of organization, where all is scheduled up to the most thorough detail and very well executed by the cruise ship’s crew. It is rather impressive how they manage thousands of people, either while embarking, disembarking, accessing the shows, restaurants and tours, and almost always without waiting on the lines and passengers fluidity.
The choice of the itinerary came down to second plan, as we already knew most of the ports of call. The boarding was made in Barcelona, with stops in Naples, Civitavecchia (Rome), Livorno (Florence and Pisa), Cannes (Nice and Monaco) and Palma de Majorca (you can check the complete Logitravel Agency program here).
But what we really wanted was the Norwegian Epic, an imposing ship (it couldn’t be more just because the Allure of the Seas was just right next door! But you get the point…), with a controversial exterior design, but with a remarkable good taste on the interior, wide corridors, charming bars and restaurants and, above all, constant entertainment all over the ship.
That is definitely the biggest trump of the Epic; wherever you are, entertainment will be there with you!
When it comes to “booking” vacations on cruises, usually we opt to do it with specialists. And in this case, despite Logitravel having prices slightly more affordable, we chose GlobalSea Travel just because we prefer a more personal treatment and attendance, same as we (also) did before when using Yacht Club for our cruise in the MSC Fantasia (you can read the report here).
After the experience in the MSC Fantasia, where we travelled in a deluxe suite with a balcony, we couldn’t ask for less than keeping that emotion of a cabin with a balcony. The choice ended up being a cabin in the stern of the ship; turned to the backside, where we could see all those destinies being left behind, always with the ship’s track reflected in the sea.
The location, on deck 12, was great but in the balcony, while cruising, we could clearly note the noise caused by the engines, due to all that motion generated in the sea. However, the soundproofing of the cabin was completely effective regarding any noise as once we closed the balcony we couldn’t hear a single thing coming from the outside.
Inside the cabin the excellent taste reigned, filled with an innovative design of curved walls and with the use of various lighting spots, that made contrast with the unaccountable… bathroom. As a matter of fact, I don’t even know if I can name it as such, considering its inoperability. This is, without question, our biggest knock with regards to the cabin. The toilet was on the side, separated from the cabin by a semitransparent glass, same for the shower, on the opposite side, separated in the same exact way. The washstand, with just over a foot, is in the cabin itself, side by side with…the TV. The dysfunction of this “bathroom” is such that it is humanly impossible not to wet half of the cabin when washing your face or even brushing your teeth.
There are so many and such good options that it’s even hard to start…but let’s start with the buffet, The Garden Cafe, which serves all day long, from breakfast to dinner, is a very pleasant space and where one does not notice the many passengers, even in the days spent at the sea, contrary to what happens in other cruises. Located on the bow of the ship, two decks above the navigating bridge, The Garden Cafe has privileged sights, incidentally, as the La Cucina, Italian restaurant, which is on the deck immediately below. This one requires previous registration and $15 per person.
The Taste and the Manhattan Room are other two restaurants with free access where they serve dinner. Both have large spaces, yet elegant, one with live music, which is included in the dinner offer.
Among the countless gastronomic offerings we recommend Cagney’s Steakhouse, for grilled food. The Brazilian restaurant Moderno Churrascaria, for a carvery, also known as Rodízio, the French classic Le Bistro, the Chinese Shanghai’s, the Japanese Teppanyaki and Wasabi (sushi) and the O’Sheehan’s that serves snacks and light meals all day long (24 hours).
But the most spectacular of them all is the Cirque Dreams and Dinner. For $ 30 per person we can dine in a restaurant-theater. A round room with 2 floors, with a stage in the center, where artists perform in the best style of Cirque du Soleil, trapeze artists, jugglers, magicians and clowns while dinning in a show full of color, light and remarkable sound. Undoubtedly, this is a “must” on the agenda of any passenger.
I will include here the amazing shows on board of the Norwegian Epic. They are, certainly, one of the ex libris of this cruise, musical performances all over the Epic in every bar or at every corner, there is a piano, a guitar, a duet, a voice, always with the best sound for every musical taste. Even in the Epic Theater with performances in a “Broadway” style (Burn the Floor, which replaced the acclaimed Blue Man Group) and concerts (Legends in Concert), with magic shows (Comedy Magic), or a kind of stand-up comedy musical (Howl at the Moon), there won’t be a dull evening with so many options available.
The icing on the cake, when it comes to shows is, without any doubt, the Cirque Dreams and Dinner that we already referred above. Note that most of these shows require prior reservation, but even without it, it was easy to watch many of them.
If that’s not entertainment enough, and for those with zip, there’s always the Bliss Ultra Lounge, a crowded nightclub on deck 7, with karaoke and music until daybreak.
Even during the day, and especially in the pool deck, entertainment was constant either with live music, dance contests or ice sculptures exhibitions.
For any rookie in cruising, the freestyle concept of the Norwegian is easily assimilated. There are no strict dress codes, we have no pre-set times for dinner, we don’t have marked places always in the same table and neither with the same people. Despite being a unique concept (or almost) in the world of cruises we must confess we enjoyed that freedom. We´re not fans of those pompous dinners, so we simply chose restaurants as per our taste and mood, how and when we wanted to.
For that, the vast gastronomic choice is a great help when it comes to the Norwegian Epic, but also the high level of organization of the company. Even requiring prior reservation at some restaurants, and even for some shows, we never faced endless or even slow queues. The ones who had reservations entered in a specific counter side, and the ones who didn’t entered on the other, always quickly and without unacceptable delays. Here, the organization dictated their law and rarely failed.
Another extremely well organized aspect was the check-in and check-out process. In Barcelona, at Terminal A, it was as simple as arriving around 13 h (the check-in opened at 12 p.m.), deliver the bags still on the outside and proceed to the dozens of available counters. It was a matter of minutes between arrival and the entry in the Epic. Perfect!
The check-out was able to overcome the check-in. In Norwegian, the freestyle concept goes even further and allows us to choose exactly when we want to leave. That’s right, we want to leave early, we do, we want to leave later then we can also leave later. We simply need to choose a color label, corresponding to each departure time; from 6:00 a.m. till 9:15 a.m. where more than a dozen of 15-minute intervals are available for our choice. We put the labels on the bags and on the disembarkation day, at the selected time, there we go.
But incredibly there’s more! We may disembark without any label on the bags, at the time we want, without having to leave the bags outside the cabin and then expect them to deliver them to us at the terminal. No! For those who want to carry out your bags with you (here the wheels become handy) you can do it by simply taking them … and get out of the cruise ship. Simpler than this is impossible! We did that, and again, in minutes we were outside, without needing to wait for any bags. Brilliant!
Even while navigating at full capacity, the Epic proved to be “weightless”, it moved in a very soft and relaxed way. Even in The Garden Cafe buffet restaurant, during sailing days, when everyone’s on board (4100 passengers in double occupancy) there has never been exaggerated constraints during lunch time. Unlike the last cruise we did in MSC Fantasia where there were large numbers of passengers at the buffet, and we struggled to find a table, here at the Epic the task was much easier.
A remark regarding the tours organized by the company; Although they are extremely expensive, they have always benefit from the good organization of the crew either on the ship, as well as on land with the guides and support staff.
The last decks of the cruise ship, where we can find the swimming pools, are divided into two main parts. The first, on the bow of the ship, is exclusive to The Haven, the most luxurious part of the ship, and separated from the rest. It has a swimming pool, a restaurant, cabins, and other exclusives that are not accessible to the rest of the ship. Therefore, the upper deck was “cut” in half, being the remaining path composed by the adult pools, the area for the little ones, slides into the water and even the H2O space, an amphitheater with a bar and a swimming pool located at the stern of the ship.
This design of the last deck and for those who enjoy the sea sights as well as feeling it, it’s just that it doesn’t seem to be as favorable as it could be. Neither the bow nor the stern, have contact with the sea, since the first is restricted (only for guests at The Haven), and the second (H2O) is a space with a giant screen and hundreds of sunbeds from one side to another, leaving no room for a walkway on the sides.
Who doesn’t enjoy walking past the pool deck at the bow or stern of the ship, with fantastic sights to the sea? Well, in the Epic it simply isn’t possible! The only areas with outdoor walkways are on deck 7 and still with an obstructed view because of the numerous lifeboats, and on deck 16, the swimming pools area, but you can only enjoy the scenery on the sides of the ship, and even then, you need to deflect the sunbeds. What a pity!
Watchers in the Swimming Pools
This was other of the nice surprises of this cruise. The presence of a watcher (I wouldn’t call him a lifeguard) in the area of the pools always aware of any lax behaviors from bathers and especially of children. It was not uncommon to hear, through his whistle, his warning to children for their most daring tricks, or even asking adults not to dive in the pool.
One of them told me that they had been trained recently and would be available in Norwegian’s larger ships. Same as here in the Epic, they were also in the Breakaway and in the Getaway. We couldn’t confirm the official number of watchers, but after the tragic event on the Norwegian Gem, where a 10 year old drowned in the pool, it was with great satisfaction that we noted the reaction of the company to avoid any remote possibility of a similar incident to happen again on their vessels.
In what regards this aspect of the organization, I believe that American companies continue to be one step ahead of Europe and I felt it in the Norwegian Epic.
The Norwegian Epic is a cruise ship that has generated controversy by its exterior design, but inside, it is at the forefront. Its large interior spaces, numerous dining options and a superior quality of its performances and shows make the Epic one of the finest cruise ships. It is certain that it has some less happy notes, and here I include the “bathroom” or the absence of an exterior path that puts us “close” to the sea, however, its strengths and positive details far outweigh the negatives.
For all we mentioned, we strongly recommend the Norwegian Epic to all readers who have reviewed this Logbook. As always, we are fully available for any clarification regarding the Norwegian cruise ship!