We have just completed our first and maybe last cruise on NCL.
We boarded the Norwegian Epic in Rome on May 24, 2017 eagerly anticipating a great adventure in “Free-Style” cruising. Having never experienced NCL before, we expected some things to be different, hopefully for the better.
Check in at the port of Civitavecchia was surprisingly quick, easy and uncrowded. We assumed we were just there early enough to beat the crowd. No one had advised us that this cruise had a split boarding. Most passengers had already boarded in Barcelona on Sunday and we were boarding on Wednesday. Seems kind of smart of NCL to do it this way, it cuts down on the crowds at both ports.
Our first wake up call was when we arrived in our room to find our Freestyle Daily bulletin said Day 4. We were already 4 days into the cruise? On Sunday in Barcelona we received the Day 1 bulletin. The info included on Day 1 would have really been helpful the day we boarded. It would seem logical for NCL to have two sets of the Freestyle Daily for the two different boarding groups but, I guess not.
We had booked a Family Balcony, Stateroom Category B2, designed to accommodate the four persons in our party. The room would have been suitable for four small children but, for four adults, not so much. We have cruised four to a stateroom on another cruise line (Carnival) and had plenty of room.
Not being naive, first time cruisers, we know the cabins are, shall we say, compact. But, this was something different.
The room was oddly curved on one side instead of rectangle. The sofa-bed was very close to the master bed, so when it was made into a sleeper and the upper bunk was pulled down, there was no room between these and the bed. As for the bed, we are both 5’10’ and our feet hung off the end.
The toilet and shower layout was bizarre. As you entered the cabin through the door, the toilet enclosure was to your right and the shower was to your left. There was a curtain which could be pulled across to separate these from the sleeping area. This was the only way to get a private dressing area as well. If either the toilet or the shower was in use, it made it awkward to exit or enter the cabin, especially for a steward delivering coffee in the morning. The so-called vanity sink was at the foot of the bed, so if the sink was being used, you would have to climb over the bed to get to the other side of the room.
There was only enough space for one person to walk through the room. The sofa bed and upper bunk left barely one foot of space between them and the closets. The balcony door was extremely hard to open or close; needed a little maintenance work. Then again we only went outside a few times because of the difficulty getting through what little space we had. This room would have been tight for just two adults.
Our room steward out of Rome was great. Although, he was not properly informed there were to be four guests in this room. When we ported in Barcelona a new steward was assigned and, once again, did not know there were four in the cabin. We did not get 4 towels when they were changed out. The floor mat was never seen again. The first night the sofa-bed and upper bunk were not turned down. We figured out how to do this ourselves. And no more towel animals! We love getting towel animals!
The bartenders on the pool deck were not friendly and seemed to have a care less attitude. There was one happy exception. Due to the arrangement of our cabin, I got dressed first and went out to the deck to get coffee while the women got dressed. After the first morning, the bartender was always right there to sweeten my coffee with a shot of Jack Daniels. A most relaxing way to start each morning! I regret not remembering his name. He always remembered me at other times as well.
But, in general, it took an unacceptably long time to get drinks. I have worked as a bartender and one of the first rules is to maintain eye contact with the ever changing flow of customers. Most of the bartenders on the Epic rarely looked up and had to be waived down to get their attention. There was also an obvious shortage of servers working on deck. We are accustomed to having servers taking drink orders and delivering drinks to guests relaxing on deck. Other than the dance parties, I do not recall seeing any servers.
We had “Ultimate Beverage Packages.” But, when we asked for a bottle of water to take on a shore excursion (note that the bar only had two other guests at the time) the bartender never looked up, just said that is $7. When advised that we had the UBP card we were told, “Water was not included.” Again, never looking up from whatever he was playing with in his hands, he abruptly said we could buy a water package. The “Ultimate” package does not include something as simple as water? But, we could buy another package just for water? Never-mind the fact that $7 for a bottle of water is obscenely excessive. We decided a $1 (or Euro) bottle on shore was a better deal.
By comparison, we have purchased beverage packages on other cruise lines and have always gotten a water as we left on an excursion. Specialty coffees and teas were also included but, not on this ship.
By the way, other than at meals or the buffet, coffee was also excluded from our packages.
That all being said, other than my attentive friend in the morning, the bartenders by the Atrium were the best. They were always laughing and helpful.
The best description for the food on the buffet was ordinary. There was not a good variety day to day. While there were some good choices, it generally left us not impressed.The staff just seemed to be going through the motions and not really enjoying their job or interacting with the guests.
Forget that “lobster night” we had gotten accustomed to on other cruises. That was only available in the premium dining venues for an additional fee. While “anytime seating” in the dining rooms was easy to schedule and more convenient than a fixed dinner time, the service was slow and food not hot.
After hours, as well as during the day, O’Sheehan’s Bar & Grill was always open. In this Irish Pub, the complementary food was always good, service was great and bar was above average. The after hours menu was limited but still had some of the best items available. The Atrium, with limited seating, was one deck below, so the pub would get crowded with people trying to look down at the activities below.
Restrooms were very hard to locate in the public areas. They are marked with unlighted brown signs on a brown background. It seemed there were fewer than on other ships but, perhaps that was just because we could not see them.
The entertainment ran the full spectrum from outstanding to poor. The DJs on deck were boring and really could not interact with people. They rarely danced, smiled, or talked, just stood there looking bored, playing the same music over and over….
The deck dance parties at night were fun. Only problem, after the Cruise Director and his entertainment crew left, we went back to the same boring DJs.
The two free shows in the theater were terrific. “Burn the Floor” and “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” were outstanding, better than any show we have seen on any ship. The theater was smaller and more intimate than other cruises and everyone could see with no obstructed view. We would have liked to seen the “Cirque Dreams” show but felt $29.99 – $39.99 per person was a bit excessive.
The dueling piano bar (Howl at the Moon) was crowded and if you did not get there early you could not sit or see. The seating arrangement was horrible, a lot of chairs were behind poles. The bar service was really slow.
However, the three performers were exceptional whether they were doing the early “family friendly” show or the later “uncensored” show.
For on board shopping there was not as much merchandise as other cruises nor daily specials. There was always the same stuff so, no need to go shopping but once. We tried to find the Candy Shoppe for our granddaughter (17) and the Liquor and Smoke Shop for us. There were signs pointing the direction to them, the interactive map gave directions to them, but we never found them. Upon asking, we were told they no longer existed. Then why have them listed. Just another unnecessary frustration.
Another frustration; I attempted to exchange dollars for Euros the morning of our first port stop. Excuse us for not wanting to be one of the first off the ship in the morning but, I was rudely informed “No,the bank closed at 9 AM.” We had to settle for getting Euros via an ATM on shore.
A Final Word:
So, while I usually say, “A bad day cruising typically beats a good day doing most anything else.” There are better options than what we experienced on Norwegian Epic.
While this review may seem a bit picky, it points out some items which prospective cruisers need to consider. Check the full itinerary of the cruise, are you starting at the beginning or boarding in the middle? Are you really going to be satisfied with the accommodations of your cabin? Are you willing to pay for the extras you thought would be included for the price you paid up front?
And, I will leave you with this: Whatever cruise or cruise line you choose, you will have a good time. Some are just better, friendlier, and have better service than others. Just like anything else in life, there are other options.