Norwegian Epic – The Definitive Review
Introduction – NCL
Pre June 2010 the ‘Norwegian Cruise line’ (NCL) had a fleet of ten ships in the 75,338 – 93,558 gross tonne range, each carrying up to 2,402 passengers (double occupancy) . All were built since 1999. In terms of North American market share (2010), NCL are in third place with 10%, with Royal Caribbean International 27% and Carnival 55%.
NCL are famous for their ‘freestyle’ innovation which all their fleet are specifically designed for. In short there are multiple restaurants and no fixed dining times, so the passengers are free to dine where and when they want and sit with who they want. The pre 2010 fleet have up to twelve dining options, some of which carry a surcharge.
They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and most cruise lines now operate a form of ‘freestyle’ on a more limited basis.
NCL decided to enter the mega-ship league by building two 155,873 gross tonne, 4,200 passenger, mega-ships code names F3’s (an abbreviation for ‘third generation freestyle’).
The first, ‘Norwegian Epic’ entered service in June 2010, but the second F3 which construction had been started, was cancelled after a disagreements with the shipyard and rising costs. NCL had to pay a large financial penalty, making the whole ‘F3’ project very expensive indeed.
According to NCL ‘Epic’ is the most ‘innovative’ ship afloat costing $1.1 billion. Epic’s external appearance is certainly unique, with her hull art and her top-heavy forward superstructure housing the private ‘Villa Suits’ complex.
Epic is the second biggest class of cruise ship in the world (based on the standard measurement, gross tonnage = internal volume), with Royal Caribbean holding the place with their two ‘Oasis’ class ships (225, 282 gt) and third place with their three ‘Freedom’ class ships (154, 407 gt) . Epic is the biggest cruise ship that does not used pod-propulsion, normally favoured for increased manoeuvrability.
It’s difficultly not to see an element of rivalry between these RCI ships and ‘NCL’, simply because they both have the biggest, newest cruise ships aimed at capturing the ‘mass market’. (Carnival’s biggest ship is ‘Carnival Dream’ at around 130,000 gt)
Due to some excellent marketing by ‘Flagship Consulting’, Norwegian Epic has probably had more media Coverage (including blogs, Facebook and Twitter) within the U.K, than any other cruise ships, including ‘Oasis’. I was lucky enough to try the ship when she entered service in June 2010 and now a year later, when she has relocated from the Caribbean to the Mediterranean, for her inaugural European Season (May 2011).
Despite the name, NCL offer an ‘American’ on board experience. They are firmly aimed at the new generation of mass-market cruisers including multi-generational families.
Epic is a reasonably high density ship, in terms of passenger numbers, however she is comparable to RCI ‘Freedom’ class. Although not a fair comparison, ‘Epic’ has a similar internal volume to the Cunard’s ‘Queen Mary 2’, but will often carry up to 1,500 more passengers. This is the difference between a ‘Premium’ and a ‘Mass Market’ product. However, Epic’s fares are normally considerably lower than the likes of Cunard.
Epic’s design is based upon the idea that not ever passenger will want to do the same thing at the same. The ship and Freestyle is designed that way and so this ‘concept’ largely work. However if bad weather, for example, closed the outer-deck on a sea day, the congestion inside the ship would be significant.
Most of the traditional elements of a cruise experience have been abandoned, including traditional ship design. There is no compulsory formal dress code. The entertainment is mostly high energy and there are no enrichment programme or guest lecturers. Pool-deck participation games are common place where the cruise director can often be heard shouting “let’s make some noise”. Music is frequently ‘piped’, even in the cabin corridors. There is no general Captain’s cocktail party for passengers (although there is often a private one for past-guests and/or villa guests). There is no midnight buffet, although there is 24 hour dining. There are no chocolates put on your pillow each night. However towel-animals do regularly appear in you cabin.
In the Mediterranean the passenger mix was predominately American, British and Spanish, but other nationalities, such as German’s were present in smaller numbers.
Nearly all crew members appeared happy and eager to please the passengers.
Both embarkation and disembarkation at Barcelona was very smooth. Two cruise terminals were used in order to cope with 4000+ passengers. I inadvertently arrived early at 11.30am and boarded with little queuing, although I guess things got busier later? Although the cabins were not ready until 2.00pm, NCL had provided a room to store any hand luggage. Disembarkation was equally swift. I queued about 15 minutes for a cab to the airport. I had no problems disembarking in the ports of call, but I never tried to be the first off the ship.
The Internal Layout/Décor
Let me first start by saying that of May 2011 the ship still looks immaculate inside and out, even though passengers have tread the carpets for over a year. There were 4,300 passengers on my Mediterranean cruise.
Epic only has two stair towers and respective banks of lifts (elevators), one located forward and one set aft. There is no amidships provision, so there is a very long walk between lifts. Some considerably smaller ships have three stair towers/lifts.
The many lift landings feature dark wood panels, reminding me of the QM2 at times. The lifts worked efficiently and were rarely over-crowded. Most of the carpets are much less ‘acid-trip’ inspired than on previous NCL ships, especially in the corridors and stair landings. The carpet in the Casino area is Las Vegas red.
Norwegian Epic has an impressive 18 decks, although decks 1- 4 are not public decks. Decks 5, 6 and 7 are almost exclusively dedicated to public spaces. There are 18 bars and lounges, 20 dining options, plus multiple entertainment venues to choose from.
Aspects of the ships design are not unlike NCL’s previous ‘jewel’ class ships, recreated on a ship over 50% bigger. The three decks of public spaces (5-7) have a very open-plan design. There are few walls, so few actual ‘rooms’, instead one area blends into the next. A number of large cut-outs allow you to peer down to the next deck giving the three decks an upmarket ‘shopping mall’ feel. Sea views are a rare commodity on this ship, apart from the numerous private balconies.
Little space has been wasted on creating any ‘wow’ factor spaces, so there is no tall vertical atrium, which are RCI and Carnival trademarks. Most of the public rooms are single height, but not all. Every inch of the ship is utilised for cabins, multiple dining options, bars and entertainment venues.
NCL have re-branded their internal décor. The often ‘garish’ semi-Carnival-esq décor of the ‘Jewel’ class has been replaced with an altogether more sedate approach. Many of the interiors are quite ‘classy’ and often not as ‘glitzy’ as RCI, in fact some aspects of the décor reminded me more of ‘Celebrity’ and occasionally touches of Cunard, with a touch of Las Vegas thrown into the mix.
There is very little traditional art work onboard Epic, apart from three very big Circus paintings outside of the ‘Spiegel Tent’ (the circus show cabaret lounge).
There are many framed photographs, most of which are opposite each lift landing and are in groups of three. These depict various activities from countries of the world, such as the French game of boules or Spanish tango dancing. Each stair landing features a giant oval mirror with a colour coded background (red for port/even cabin numbers) or on a red background (blue for starboard/odd cabin numbers).
However when walking the three decks I was permanently confused as to which direction was forward and which was aft. There is some signage but it is hidden between slot machines. The main deck plans are on the lift-landings.
The ship has too many public spaces for me to comment on them all in detail. However some are not unlike rooms/spaces on any other modern ship, yet some are very different. I will comment on the important spaces.
As you board the ship you instantly realise that Epic is built for “Fun”. Three quarters of deck 5 (the first passenger deck) is dedicated to public spaces with no cabins. Passengers sometimes board Epic via her ‘atrium’ (amidships deck 5) which is quite understated in terms of its neutral décor. It is only two decks high and not unlike a bigger version of the jewel class ‘atrium’. It contains the usual reception desk, shore excursions desk and an atrium café. The first thing that struck me was how very wide the atrium was which instantly reveals the sheer scale of the ship. The atrium’s centre piece is an enormous two-story high-definition video screen. The quality of the image is remarkable.
Ironically this screen often shows views of beautiful landscapes around the world and passengers often relax and watch it. The atrium only has some very small windows which are difficult to see out of, especially if you are in the middle of the room. On this ship, ‘virtual reality’ is obviously takes precedent over the natural beauty of the seas and land outside the ship. (However RCI’s ‘Royal Promenade’ has a similar inward focus).
Late night movies are often shown on this screen, but noise from the atrium bar and passing passengers and from O’Sheehans above, make it difficult to concentrate on the movies. There is no dedicated cinema and the Theatre was not used for movies on my cruise.
Moving forward from the amidships lobby, on deck 5 we pass there is a ‘click’ photo shop, a very large ‘art sales’ area and ‘I-connect’ the surprisingly small Internet café. We then come to ‘Le Bistro’, the French restaurant which is probably the most ‘classy’ and intimate dining room onboard (excluding the private Epic club).
At the very bow of deck 5 is the lower level of the ‘Epic Theatre’s lower level (it is two decks in height). The Theatre is of course state-of-the-art, but somewhat smaller than you would expect from such a big ship holding just 681 passengers (only a sixth of the ships passenger capacity). We are of course used to seeing theatres on other ships that accommodate approximately half of a ships passenger compliment in one sitting. However this ‘NCL Freestyle’ and there are some additional smaller entertainment venues. The theatre has raked seating, there is no balcony/circle, and although there are raised areas reserved stage right and left for courtyard guests which look down. The Theatre offers excellent sight lines with no columns at all.
The theatre was designed with the ‘Blue Man’ group in mind. However the technical manager told me that the low ceiling makes the impressive lighting rig difficult to utilise to its full capability, but a layperson probably would not notice.
Moving aft from the amidships lobby on deck 5, Continuing aft there are two escalators (one up and one down) to deck 6, emerging in to the Casino area.
Continuing on deck 5 we reach ‘Taste’ (540 seats) restaurant which is one of two main no-surcharge dining rooms. It is located in its own atrium which has the world’s largest ‘contemporary’ LED chandelier hanging above it. The dining room is much larger than it first appears and has a mix of décor including Art Nouveau with some attractive coloured glass windows.
Deck 6 is entirely dedicated to public spaces. At the bow there is the upper level of the ‘Epic Theatre’.
Moving aft, we first reach the ‘Spiegel Tent’. This takes its name from a travelling Tent, constructed in Wood and Canvas and decorated with mirrors and Stained glass, originally built in Belgium during the late 19th Century. It is a circular, double-height room, with tables and a surprisingly small centre performance floor space. There is a circular balcony with additional seating, looking down. It has just 275 seats, but this of course adds to the atmosphere of the live performance. The show carries a $20-$30 surcharge, depending where you sit.
Adjacent to the ‘Spiegel Tent’ is the intimate ‘Headliner’s Comedy Club’, which speaks for itself. This has a brick exterior. Unfortunately for a small room it has some big pillars which often obscure the view of the small stage. On my recent cruise this was used for ‘Howl at the Moon’ and the ‘Spanish Ballet’ shows. The room was not used from comedy, probably because of the language barriers of a very international clientèle.
‘O’Sheehan’s Neighbourhood Bar & Grill’ is located amidships. This is an ‘Irish Pub’ style lounge, named after NCL’s CEO. It serves 24 hour food and is one of the bigger lounges on the ship. It is very atmospheric and very popular. It looks down onto the lobby and its video screen.
It also has three bowling lanes, dart board, pool table, foosball and arcade games (a further three bowling lanes are located in Bliss).
I did notice a particular video game in O’Sheehan’s that involved shooting virtual ‘wild game’. Although I appreciate that this is just a game, I find it a very distasteful choice from a company that boasts its green credentials.
Continuing aft, the two escalators emerge from deck 5 into the Casino area which is located amidships. It is very extensive with 340 slot machines and many gaming tables.
Uniquely the casino is an open plan area with a real Las Vegas feel, which passengers have to pass through on occasions when travelling forward to aft, or vice versa. Smoking is allowed in the casino and those with a sensitive nose will smell the odour, although the area is reasonably well air-conditioned.
Moving further aft we reach ‘Shanghai’s Chinese Restaurant (starboard) and ‘Fat Cats’ Jazz Club, which is an intimate 280 seat venue. The two level Manhattan Room Restaurant occupies the very aft of the ship.
The Manhattan Dining Roomis the biggest dining room on board and is the second non-surcharge venue. It is also very attractive. The Menu is very tall and features the Empire State Building on the front. The sweet menu features an image of the Chrysler building.
The Manhattan takes up the full width of the ship. It is one of the most attractive dining rooms on any mega-ship in my opinion (along with QM2’s Britannia dining room and RCI’s Radiance class dining rooms). It has a charming Art Deco design, and a two deck high ceiling in the centre, although seating is on the lower level only. Colourful murals flank both sides of the entrance. There is a stage in front of Art Deco style (rectangular) windows, overlooking the ships wake. The room has a large dance floor. Live music is often performed for dinner by jazz or classical bands.
The restaurants furniture is flexible so tables, chairs and even a buffet station is sometimes set out on part or all of dance floor, at times. Occasionally it is used a s a lecture theatre. Personally it is a shame to see the dance floor ever covered. The menu is the same the ‘Taste’ dining room. Both Taste and the Manhattan share the same galley, with is located below the Manhattan, but on the same level (deck 5) for Taste. The waiters can walk directly from the galley into ‘Taste’. However they have to use escalators to reach the Manhattan.
Some passengers have commented that the service in the Manhattan is slower than Taste, the escalators may explain this, although I had no problems.
At the bow of deck 7 is the ‘Bliss Ultra lounge’ which is one of the biggest lounges on the ship (along with O’Sheehan’s). It is an adults only lounge after 10.00pm.
The ‘Bliss’ décor is very exotic, being somewhat harem like and is more in keeping with similar lounges on other NCL ships. The to ‘Bliss’ entrance is guarded by two bizarre black statues which are half horse/half lamp shade.
You enter through a kind of mist which has images projected on it. It is a very popular lounge/nightclub and is often very busy of an evening with dance music being played. It has a small stage, video screens and three bowling lanes. The room is also used for Karaoke.
Continuing aft, we have the ‘Ice Bar’ (now sponsored by Swedish Svedka Vodka) on the port side. This is the only Ice Bar at sea. The room holds 25 passengers and is quite sparse with a bar (made of ice of course) a few large ice sculptures and a few ice chairs. The drinking glasses are made of ice, in part, too. In fear of stating the obvious, it’s very cold inside. In fact it is 17 degrees Fahrenheit. They have added a TV to thebar since last year– why?
Passengers are allocated a 45 minute slot in the ice bar. Most of my fellow Brits withstood the full 45 minutes, although those passengers from more tropical climates lasted around 10-20 minutes. The ice bar carries a surcharge of $20 but you do get two free drinks, choosing from six vodka cocktails(or two soft cocktails).
Continuing aft we find the ‘Tepanyakki’ dining room, ‘Wasabi Sushi Bar’ and ‘Sake’ bar starboard. I had fresh Sushi (with a surcharge) for lunch which was very good indeed. There is even a Barbers shop nearby, where a man can get a haircut and/or wet shave. There are photographs on the wall of 1970’s hairstyles, which now all look very humorous of course.
Epic was originally built without a Library, which shocked the press at the time, because most other cruise ships do have one. A small lounge next to the ‘Humidor Cigar lounge’ has now had some book cases and books added. It is an extremely small facility for the size of ship although I doubt if the average NCL passenger books the cruise to catch up on their reading.
At the very aft of the deck 7 is ‘Cagney’s Steak House’ and ‘Modorno Churrascaria’ which overlook the Manhattan room.
Decks 8 – 13 are purely accommodation decks, apart from the Medical Centre on deck 10 and the private ‘Studio Lounge’ (formerly named the ‘Living room’) on deck 11/12, serving the 128 small ‘Studio’ cabins spread over both of those decks. Food and beverages are served here. Deck 13 also has a ‘Bridge Viewing’ window forward, where you can watch the officers navigate the ship.
Deck 14 has cabins located forward and the ‘Recess Kids Club’ located amidships. Moving aft is the a Squash Court, which was not in use as a squash court, but filled with more Gym equipment with a surcharge attached. Then we have the ‘Pulse’ fitness centre/aerobics room, hair and beauty salon and fully aft, the ‘Mandarin’ Spa. This ‘health & beauty’ complex is particularly extensive. Located on this deck are a total of 39 spa suites, which have private entry to the luxurious thermal suite and fitness center. Eight spa suites each feature an in-room whirlpool, although this compromises the already ungenerous cabin space available. A limited number of daily or weekly spa passes are available which I’m told by friends represents good value. The Spa can get very busy later in the day, especially on sea-days.
Deck 15 features the first level of the very ungainly forward deck extension. The lower level contains the ‘Garden Café & The Great Outdoors’ which is the self-service buffet area and lido (open air) dining area.
Having the buffet located forward, rather than aft, as on most modern ship, caused me some navigational disorientation at first. The Garden Buffet is not unlike those on many modern ships and is a very large spacious room (much bigger than the one onboard Oasis/allure even though they carry more passengers). However the Garden Café was still prone to getting a little crowded at times. It offers some of the best sea views of any room on the ship.
Unusually when dining in the ‘Great Outdoors’ passengers get a view of the Aqua Park, rather than the sea. The main entrance to ‘La Cucina’, the Tuscan-style eatery on deck 14 is via the Garden café buffet (deck 15). The centre piece of ‘La Cucina’ and its Italian decor is a full-sized tree. This restaurants also offers some of the sea views of any dining room, being perched high above the bow.
Deck 7 has two promenades running down each side of the ship. There are ‘deck games’ on the port side and a ‘jogging track’ on the starboard side. The Proms offers virtually no sea views as both are obstructed by ten very ‘sexy’ red & white lifeboats, per side. However no cabins views are obstructed by the lifeboats, apart from the downward view of the cabins on deck 8. Therefore some of the best sea views on Epic are from the many balcony cabins.
The lifeboat drill follows the modern trend of taking place in various public areas without the passengers being required to wear life jackets.
The public pool deck features just three main adult pools (and one exclusively for small children) and are all quite small. At busy times these may prove to be inadequate for the number of passengers. The Villas passengers have their own private pool.
The main feature of the Pool Deck is the Aqua park with its ‘Epic Plunge’: the only tube slide with a bowl slide and a 200-foot long tube. The Aqua Park also includes two main pools five hot tubs, a wading pool and a kid’s pool that features whimsical sculptures, water sprays and a slide. Behind the twin funnels are two rock climbing wall. We then pass through an area called ‘The Marketplace’ which is an open air sales area (is there no escape from consumerism?)
Beyond that is the ‘Spice H2O’ pool and bar at the ships stern. There is another giant video screen located here, which is flanked by two of the biggest speakers that you have ever seen. This area has a very small aft adult plunge-pool which turns into a dance floor/dance-club at night, which NCL call an ‘Ibiza style party scene’. It certainly can get lively and crowded when the weather is good. Of course if it’s cold or raining, the passengers will all migrate to ‘Bliss’ which would quickly become very crowded.
Deck 16 forward, features the Villa ‘ship-within-a-ship’ suite complex.
Deck 17 Aft is the ‘sports deck’. full-sized basketball court, climbing wall and a very strange 24-foot tall enclosed climbing cage called the Spider Web. Deck 18 is the roof of the ‘villa’ complex. This features a private courtyard sundeck and public sundeck, port and starboard and the private ‘posh beach club’.
The cabin corridors are once again quite ‘understated’, although not unattractive. NCL still have that clever ‘wheel’ gadget next to each cabin door which is used to indicate “do not disturb”, “please make up may room” etc. without the need for cardboard door hangers.
NCL originally claimed that Epic would have “no conventional cabins”. It is true that no other ship in the world has anything similar. The good news is that all outside grades of cabin on Epic have balconies. There are no window or port-hole cabins, but there are inside cabins. Only some deck 8 cabins have the most minimally obstructed view due to the lifeboats the deck below. Their view is only obstructed when looking down.
All cabins have balconies and most have their ‘new wave’ curved walls and unique bathroom layout. All grades of cabin are uber-trendy and look great, but most are quite ‘compact’.
Many of the cabins are an interlocking (mirror-image) design, a ‘69’ configuration. This is not a new idea as many of the great ocean liners used this design to save space. However most of ‘Epics’ cabins have their ‘new wave’ design (curved walls) that help disguise the fact that the standard cabins and mini suites are much narrower than cabins on most other modern ships. In fact my steward told me that finding the room to make the bed was quite a skill.
For my first Epic cruise (April 2010) I allocated deluxe balcony cabin (now reclassified a mini-suite), number 11,080. Controversially in the vast majority of the cabins, including mine, have the toilet and shower split into two separate compartments, either side of the cabin, with frosted glass sliding doors, either side of the entrance door. This design cleverly saves space and allows the creation of a narrower cabin (I guess that’s how they fit 20 dining options onboard). There is a vanity sink next to the toilet cubicle. This wet area has a wooden affect floor, the bedroom area, a carpet.
Now the lack of toilet and shower privacy is an issue for some people. You can see a person’s silhouette through the frosted glass doors of both the toilet and shower. However there is a curtain which can be drawn closing off the wet area (toilet and shower only, not the sink) from the bedroom area – so really it is a non-issue in my opinion. In fact the class doors make the toilet and shower lighter than normal – good for the claustrophobic. Although some passengers have said that personal noises can travel from the toilet into the cabin.
The ‘pedestal’ style vanity sink looks very stylish, but most of water used to spray onto the work surface and floor every time it was used. The tap (faucet) has been changed and now only some of the water escapes. There is a shaving socket by the sink and a mirror.
The (mini suite) cabin has a very large (in fact long) shower with a big shower head on a flexible pipe. A glass door beats a curtain any day and the water did not tend to leave the shower and flood the floor. Dispensers were provided for shampoo, shower gel and soap – no luxury Molton Brown products on this ship. The vacuum toilet barked like an angry dog as usual, but louder.
The mini suite cabins appear to no wider than the standard balcony cabins, but they are a little longer. Calling them a suite is optimistic as you do not get a separate seating area as you might expect with a suite. You do get an extra wardrobe and some extra cupboards. In fact I counted 15 different cupboards of various shapes and sizes – there may be more? However the wardrobes were not very deep. When opened, the wardrobe doors block the limited through-way.
A large sofa (which takes up a disproportional amount of space in the cabins) pulls out to become a third (a feature of the standard balcony cabins too). The main bed has rounded ends and tall passengers have complained that it is too short. The cabin lighting is trendy and quite effective, compared to some other ships. Flexible bed side spot-lamps are provided. Although they have an illuminated button which some passengers found annoying at night. The balcony was of reasonable size and easily accommodated two upright chairs and a very small table.
The dressing table area has a hair-dryer underneath it. There is a safe and mini bar. The only power socket (the US type) was under the vanity desk and was a little difficult to access. The cabin LCD TV’s are ‘interactive’ allowing you to book entertainment, dining and check your account. There are ‘pay per view’ movies on offer which I find incredibly mean. The regular TV channels are limited in number and many are advertisements for Epic’s ‘chargeable’ facilities. There was also a coffee-making machine in the cabin, which is always very welcomed by Brits.
The cabin allocated for me for my recent cruise was 12,270, (deck 12, aft) a disabled cabin (although I am not disabled). It was very spacious, with a very large balcony and large shower/toilet combo designed to accommodate a wheelchair passenger. In fact the cabin looked bigger than the Deluxe Owners Suites!
The door could be opened from inside the cabin by pressing a switch – a few minutes later it would close itself automatically. On strange feature was a button inside the which said “lock”. I assume this double-locked the cabin door. However you could leave the cabin with the button in the “lock” position only to find that you are completely locked out (your swipe card no longer functions). The only way to get back in is to call security, which is done by travelling 7 decks down to the Atrium Reception decks (deck 5). This would be very distressing for a disabled person with limited mobility, if the lifts were busy. There was no sign or instructions in the cabin warning you of this issue.
The 128 studio cabins located on deck 11 and 12 are just 100 sq ft. They are the nautical equivalent of ‘bedsits’, yet they are very cute to look at, at least. Unusually have big round ‘frosted’ windows looking onto the corridor, but people cannot see in, and the guests cannot see out. The corridor itself is bathed in a blue light and looks very sci-fi. These cabins were originally designed for couples (obviously small couples) but are now redesignated as ‘single occupancy’. Last year NCL sold these at about half the fare of a standard inside cabin for a couple, so effectively no single supplement. This year they cost a little more. The ‘Living room’ has now been renamed the ‘Studio Lounge’ and effectively becomes come a singles bar. Making the double studio cabins ‘singles’ makes the ‘studio lounge’ potentially twice as spacious and gives the ship a little more room.
Many of the crew are very happy because Epic gives them their own cabin with a shared bathroom. On other ships crew often share cabins with up to four colleagues.
Much of Epic’s entertainment is ‘branded’ shows from America, with official ‘cast’ members, rather than creating their own entertainment using an onboard performers. Non-Americans will not be so familiar with the shows reputations.
All of Epic’s entertainment venues are quite small given the very large size of the ship. If you want to see particular shows, ideally you should book on-line, long before you leave home. Otherwise you will have to queue on the night, in the hope of getting one of the limited number of spare seats. All entertainment bookings are held on your pass card/room key, which is scanned on arrival to each show.
There is so much choice of entertainment onboard Epic that you often get the feeling that you are missing something (and you normally are).
I saw the ‘Blue Man Group’* (who are no longer on-board) in the Epic Theatre which was a full 1.5 hour show. Now if you have never seen the BMG it is almost impossible to explain what they do – but here goes: It’s a humorous musical and visual show, with no dialogue, featuring three Blue Men drumming (sometimes on plastic plumbing), some rock music, some avant guard slapstick and audience participation: see I told you it was difficult to explain. Anyway it’s unique and very unconventional which exactly matches how NCL have promoted Epic as being. I kind of enjoyed this strange show, although some traditionalists would probably prefer ‘Chicago’ etc. (offered on ‘Allure of the Seas’). It worth reflecting that a ticket to see the BMG in Las Vegas costs $100 but onboard Epic it’s free.
“Cirque Dreams and Dinner” show, held in the purpose-built ‘Spiegel Tent’ room. The meal last year was awful, but now it is greatly improved, although it is still not fine-dining. A surf and turf set-meal is offered or Ravioli for vegetarians. The 1.5 hour show has been complete revamped for an international crowd. It is much improved, in fact now it is so good that I was scared to look at my plate in case I missed any of the action. I sometimes even forgot to eat! The show was well worth the supplement.
The previous version features lots of comical dialogue, some bizarre (original) songs and general tomfoolery, which was not always funny. The former show only warmed up in the second half. Now the revamped show hits the ground running with continuous high-energy circus acts and no padding.
The Circus acts included a tight-rope walker with a very slack rope, balancing, juggling and strong man acts, plate spinning, hoop twirling to name but a few. There was even a man cavorting in a bath of water and flying on ribbons, much to the delight female members of the audiences. There was also a woman who can instantly change her clothes – I wish she could teach my wife that trick. Both recorded music with some live soloists (saxophone etc.) are used. At several points in the show I feared that I might have to say “Waiter there is a performer in my soup” (although soup was not served).
It is worth noting that there are two prices. $30 for sitting on the floor around the small circular performance area, or $20 sitting on a circular balcony looking down onto the performance area. The waiters did extremely well to work around the show and even joined in occasionally. Seat numbers are not allocated when you book the show. Some of the chairs on the floor are not very well positioned for the best view, so guest will often queue 45 minutes early to get the best seats. Some audience participation is required, so beware of being picked.
‘Howl at the Moon’ show (from Las Vegas) in ‘Headliners’ comedy club is a light-hearted pop sing-along show with two pianists. It is very American in style and humor but the English-speaking passengers enjoyed it, often into the early hours of the morning. No comedy actually took place in the club, probably dues to the language barriers of an international crowd.
Headliners was also the venue for the ‘Maestranza Spanish Ballet’ in which four dancers perform a flamenco show on a very tiny stage indeed. It was excellent and in high demand. The Epic Theatre would be a better venue for making more seats available, but the intimacy would be lost. The four dances may also have difficulty filling such a big stage?
‘Legend in Concert’ is a long running American pop tribute act. Our version featured an Elton John set, a Shakira set and a Whitney Houston set. The band were very versatile and pretty loud which was appreciated by the young but not always by the more mature passengers. The success of the show really depends how much you are a fan of the original acts.
‘Fats Cats’ Jazz bar often feature Slam Allen’s Blues band who were excellent. Even passengers who were not big blues fans were in awe. Several nights there was a jazz jam session on offer.
Stephen Sorrentino is a talented musical comedian and impressionist, also well know in Vegas. His musical impressions were very good, but almost exclusively American. However he gave the Theatre Technicians a hard time when there were a few minor technical hitches.
An excellent Beatles Tribute played at outdoor venue, Spice H2O, several times during the week as did the Motown band “Twice as Nice”. However inclement weather (cool and breezy) reduced the potential audience size.
There were a classical trio onboard, several excellent piano/singers and a brilliant flamenco guitarist, Luis Garimaldi. Various ‘Nickelodeon’s’ events are held onboard for children.
(*In October 2015, the Broadway show, “Priscilla Queen of the Desert” replaces the “Blue Man group” after 5 years.)
It is important to remember Epic is a big mass-market ship preparing some 12,000+ meals per day. You cannot expect a fine-dining experience in the larger non-surcharge dining rooms and on occasions you may not even get it in the smaller surcharge ones.
Like all big ships, all the meat and fish stored frozen, defrosted and all cooking is done with electricity. Some food is pre- prepared shore-side and simply stored and cooked onboard. This is assembly line catering. Meat was very commonplace but vegetables were more of a rarity.
The LCD touch screens around the ship display information including deck plans and which dining rooms were the most crowded. (Far from ideal in a Norovirus situation). Booking the speciality restaurants is advisable. If there is a queue for the main dining rooms you are given a pager. These normally go off within 10-15 minutes regardless of the staff telling you there will be a half an hour wait.
O’Sheehand Irish Bar features a 24 hour grill. The food tends to be high-fat choices such as hamburgers and chicken burgers severed with fries. Although I did have an excellent vegetable soup followed by a healthy Chefs salad (unfortunately completely swamped in thousand island dressing). I also ordered a fruit plate, in an effort to maintain my weight, only to find it was served with two big slices of cake (only on an American ship). Many passengers rated the breakfasts here highly.
The ‘Manhattan Room’ (600 seats) and ‘Taste’ (540 seats) are the biggest two non-surcharge dining rooms. The Manhattan does not normally serve breakfast or lunch, only evening meal, but taste server all three on sea days. During the ports of call only O’sheehand and the Garden Café (buffet) serve lunch. Although this is a sufficient to handle the reduced number of guests, it’s a pity not to have a wider choice given the 20 dining options.
The service in both the Manhattan and Taste was always friendly and efficient in both, but not as attentive in the smaller surcharge dining rooms. Both restaurants share the same galley and menu items. Some items are ‘fixed’ while others change daily. The food can be very inconstant ranging from mediocre to good. I did have a surprisingly good NY Strip, my wife some very nice pork. In Taste I was served an excellent shrimp Caesar salad and omelet for lunch, but for evening meal some over-rare lamb (I was not asked how I wanted it cooked) with a blob of mash and a blob of beans. The lamb had the texture of rubber – it was not a great meal.
La Cucina is a very attractive restaurant with an Italian themed décor, overlooking the bow of the ship. Unfortunately the Pasta’s that my wife and I chose were both mediocre so not worth the surcharge. However, once again I have had good pasta on other NCL ships in their respective Italian speciality dining rooms.
The Garden Buffet: the food choice and quality was very good. The plates and cups were china, but trays were not available. The range of food was good and the fresh omelet station and fresh pasta station (better than La Cucina) have chefs that could the food for you while you wait. I did notice a lack of the more expensive item such as some cuts of meat and seafood’s.
Modorno Churrascaria (along with Cagney’s Steak House) both overlook the Manhattan room. They both share a very extensive salad bar. I can confirm that Cagney’ uses ‘Premium Angus’ steak which is of a higher quality that the steak used in the ships other restaurants. The Modorno experience involves waiter bringing round skewers of succulent meat, carved at your table, until you beg them to stop (using a green or red card). It’s a carnivores dream and the food was excellent. It was my best on board dining experience and well worth the surcharge.
Le Bistro is one of NCL’s signature dining venues across the fleet. It is one of the most attractive and intimate restaurants on board and is decorated in an are nouveau style. The menu features both classic and contemporary French fare for a surcharge. Unfortunately my meal (starter: escargot, main course: duck, sweet: crème brulee) was quite good but not excellent, although I have had excellent food on board other NCL ships in their respective Bistro’s.
Curiously the Atrium Café servers specialty coffee, but does not serve alcohol (but the waiters can obtain it from upstairs in O’Sheehans). It also serves some very nice cake which changes daily.
The Epic Club on deck 16 offers exclusive private dining for guests staying in the villas. Originally it was to be named ‘Halo, the Über Bar’. It can accommodate 127 passengers. I was kindly invited for a meal there. The room is very stylish and intimate, with a bar and restaurant. It has wonderful views over the ship, being the highest lounge/dining room on the ship, although I would not like to be eating in it during a storm. The staff were very attentive (almost overly so by British standards). The food was good but, but I was expecting something extra-special. I had Lobster Tail which rice, which lacked a little flavor. My wife had a steak which was passable. Never the less, the views and the ambience of the room was more personal than any of the other dining rooms on-board.
What was missing onboard Epic was dedicated ‘healthy’ dining rooms, although some health options are available throughout. Onboard RCI’s ‘Oasis’ the Park Cafe (Central Park) and Vitality Cafe offer mainly light/healthy options.
Drink prices (June 2011) : Beer $4.25-6.95, Spirits $5.75-6.75, Pepsi etc. $1.99, 1 lite water $4.50, Wine from $24 (all prices exclude 17% grat.) Wine list contains many American wines.
If you have special dietary requirement, simply pick another ship. A friend of mine onboard advised NCL of her requirements, well in advance of the cruise. However NCL failed for much of the cruise to provide her with suitable food and when they did it was repetitive and uninteresting. Another friend on board who is vegetarian, apart from eating fish, over-dosed on salmon as other varieties of fish were pretty rare on many of the menus.
NCL have ‘super-sized’ themselves. Essentially Epic is like an NCL ‘Jewel’ class ship on steroids. In fact she makes the rest of the NCL fleet feel ‘intimate’ by comparison. Epic is ‘Las Vegas at Sea’ – she is a floating entertainment venue, resort and hotel.
Epic’s major selling point is her multiple dining and entertainment options. I would hesitate to call her ‘truly’ innovative, as this particular innovation took place back in 2001 when ‘Norwegian Sun’ became the first NCL ship designed specifically for ‘Freestyle’ with a modest eight dining options. However, Epics’ ‘third generation Freestyle’ concept takes matters further with even more dining options and enhanced entertainment.
In my opinion ‘freestyle’ matches the tastes of the modern (often younger) passenger better than the traditional inflexible system: ‘two sittings’ for diner followed by a main show. However ‘freestyle’ is not perfect and restaurants can become crowded at peak times and queues can form. Ideally popular shows need to be booked and entertainment options can clash. Some traditionalists may simply not warm to ‘Freestyle’.
I have one main concern about Epic version of ‘freestyle’. Even before I boarded the ship I have booked a very complex daily schedule of alternative dining, entertainment and shore excursions, all booked in advance on-line. Now they were all my choices, but I hardly felt ‘free’ onboard.
Epic offers the most dining options afloat and you cannot easily sample them all within a one week cruise. You can expect to get a better meal and more attentive service in the surcharge dining options. However there are inconsistencies and some of the food quality in any of the dining rooms can be unpredictable – in my week I had meals ranging from poor to excellent.
The cabins may not be conventional or the most spacious at sea, but they are definitely the most stylish. Sea views are rare on-board Epic, apart from the many private balconies. Many public areas are single-height and lack the ‘wow’ factor.
Epic has all the advantages and disadvantages of a big ship. For example the corridors are endless and the stair cases go on forever, so Epic may not be an ideal ship for those passengers with mobility problems. Epic can feel very busy at times and the pool deck was often crowded. Sun loungers may not always be easy to secure. NCL are masters of the ‘addition surcharge’ but their fares can be very competitive.
So would I recommend Norwegian Epic? Yes, Epic truly competes with the mega-ships of the Carnival and Royal Caribbean lines. She is ideal for the young, the young at heart and families looking for an informal ‘fun’, high-energy experience. The entertainment is wall to wall. However, if you are looking for a more relaxing, peaceful experience, with high-culture, this is definitely the wrong ship for you.
(Special Thanks to Flagship Consulting)
How does ‘Oasis’ compare: See Here
Norwegian Jade Review: See Here
Norwegian Getaway Review: See Here
Norwegian Escape Review: See Here