After 26 cruises, it is clear to say that my favourite holiday is onboard a ship. Every ship and passenger has their own personality and passengers who have had a great experience tend not to venture elsewhere.
For cruise number 27, I changed from my usual cruise holiday style of small and intimate or mid-size. After avoiding the now popular ultra megaships, I finally took the plunge to spend a holiday with 4000 others.
Wouldn’t it take hours to obtain breakfast with the hoards and masses? It is one thing going on a ships tour but to actually be with all these people whilst at sea was a concern.
The opportunity was available at the right price and a much needed break was in order. The choice was confirmed to give the Norwegian Epic a try on a 7 night Western Mediterranean itinerary. The ports of call I had been to before on three previous occasions but there is always something different and new to visit even in the same port of call.
My husband, son and I discussed what we thought would be the pros and cons. As for breakfast, I rationalised that we could always dine for breakfast in our cabin if it was a mad house at the buffet.
The Epic came into service in 2010 and carries over 4,000 passengers; so she has had a few years and experience under her belt. The ship has a good range of staterooms including family cabins, spa cabins and for solo cruisers, studio cabins, a first in the industry.
The ship was huge but easy enough to get around. We discovered that despite its massive size, this ultra modern vessel still supplied a cosy feel that was just right for our family.
Our cabin was a mini-suite no. 8175. All cabins have what is known as a ‘new wave’ design with curved walls rather than being boxy. It creates the illusion that the cabin is larger than it is. I would imagine that my steward would have quite a job to make up the room because of the narrowness from the bed to the wall.
I peeked into the ‘regular’ balcony cabin and they appear to be no bigger other than in length. The sofa pulls out to become a third bed. However, the bed portion was rather small and my son’s feet overlapped over the end. I understand that this feature is in all standard balcony cabins too. Personally, I would call this cabin a deluxe balcony and not a mini suite.
On the plus side our cabin had the largest shower I have experienced at sea with a large rain shower head. The shower has a frosted glass door and stops the tendency of flooding the floor of the cabin, which is a common problem on most ships.
We took advantage of a the alternative restaurant pre-paid dining plan, which afforded us access to the specialty restaurants such as ‘Le Bistro’ (French), ‘Teppanyaki’ (Japanese) ‘La Cucina’ (Italian) ‘Cagney’s Steakhouse’ and ‘Churrascaria’ (Brazilian grilled meats and salad bar). All of our meals surpassed my expectations. Experiencing blasé food or cuisine that just has too much salt added has been a complaint of mine in the past.
Freestyle dining (non-surcharge venues) included in the price of the cruise are the ‘Manhattan Room’ and ‘Taste’ (both traditional cruise main venues), the ‘Garden Café’ and the ‘Great Outdoors’ (lido buffet & grill), ‘Shanghai’s’ (Chinese and noodle fare) and ‘O’Sheehan’s’ serving British and Irish pub food.
We never tried any of the Freestyle dining options other than the Garden Café and we were able to dine for breakfast each and every day without being overwhelmed by the crowds; it was very impressive to see how the Epic exceeded in the world of buffets not only with quality of the food served but with the arrangement of the stations, décor and seating. Never did the room feel crowded.
The ‘Mandara Spa’ is notable. I indulged in three different treatments and my husband had one as did my son. They were all relaxing and uplifting. Spa staterooms and mini suites come with their very own key card to give you access to a private whirlpool, heated lounges, and sauna and steam rooms. One of our appointments was lost as the therapist went ashore. To make up for the rescheduling, the manager allotted all three of us with keys to experience the private spa room.
The centre of deck 15 contains the ‘Aqua Park’. There are several slides including the only bowl slide called Epic Plunge with inner tubes provided for those seeking an adrenal rush. There two main pools and four hot tubs.
Nearby is a children’s paddling pool and water fun centre that features, water sprays and a small slide and colourful decor with sculptured animals tailored for the youngsters. Within this area there are also two rock climbing walls.
Another area called H2O has a pool for adults only and is located in the aft of the ship. Although smaller in size, there are two hot tubs available. You can lounge in the area and be entertained by the outdoor giant TV screen with mood-enhancing visuals. In the evenings, movies are shown.
At night, the Epic really rocks!. Norwegian Cruise Line has always been known for great entertainment every since the Norway sailed transatlantic. We opted for the show ‘Legends’ based on the musical legends. Instead of the ones that appear everywhere (Michael Jackson, Madonna and Elvis), the Epic chose slightly more unusual singers to honour such as Gloria Estefan, Rod Stewart and Sting.
The show was in the main theatre and reservations (cost-free) were needed. Reserving a performance does alleviate the crowds and you are assured of a seat. However, the drawback was the same show played in this venue the entire week.
Other performances took place in smaller lounges and during our cruise consisted of Dreamgirls (homage to Motown), a ventriloquist and magician from Madrid, a Beatles tribute band, 70’s dancing music and nightly jazz. The “Cirque Dreams” (with or without dinner) is performed nightly at the ‘Spiegel Tent’ for an additional fee
Another appealing aspect of the Epic is its huge assortment of lounges. The ‘Bliss Ultra Lounge’ is dark, opulent and has a sparkling floor, velvet drapes and high leather seats and day beds.
If the weather has been too warm for your liking, cool off after a long day at the ‘Svedka Ice Bar’. It is a must one-time experience to enter into the 17 degrees Fahrenheit pub filled with ice furniture, ice artwork, and ice goblets. There is a cover charge that includes a drink and use of a parka with hood and gloves as you enter to chill out but stay warm.
Other watering holes, clubs and hideaways just pop up as you meander on deck 5, 6 or 7.
The ship contains an expansive Las Vegas-style ‘Casino’ with more penny slots than I have ever seen before on a ship. However, you can lose just as much on a penny machine as playing blackjack or roulette. Just ask my husband!
If you’re an avid cruiser looking to test out any of these big-ship amenities just to see what they are like, the Norwegian Epic would be a good place to start. As a family who prefers a smaller ship, more pros than cons are apparent. Another mega-ship experience is on the horizon to compare it to the Epic in the near future.
Images courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line
Written by Veronica Shine