Norwegian Epic docked in St. Marten

Norwegian Cruise Line’s Epic – Epic Trip, or Epic Failure?

Over the years, we’ve made eleven cruises on various ships and cruise lines. From that experience we’ve always maintained that “we never met a cruise ship we didn’t like”. We’ve been on Royal Caribbean, Carnival, Disney, and lately our last three cruises were on various Norwegian Cruise Line ships, the latest being the Norwegian Epic. The Epic is the largest ship we’ve sailed on, but it’s a far cry from the best, at least in our estimation.

This last adventure was an Atlantic crossing. As you may know, many of the ships will switch from a European base to a Caribbean base throughout the year. They typically cruise the Mediterranean or Baltic in the summer, for example, then switch to the Caribbean in the winter. Cruise lines, of course, don’t like to drive around in empty ships, so they sell crossings when these ships leave one market for another. This year we caught the Epic as it left Barcelona and made its way to Miami to begin the winter season in the Caribbean.

First a word about Atlantic crossings. If you’re not sure you like cruising, or if you’ve never been on a cruise, this is not the ideal first cruise you should make. It typically consists of several days at sea with no ports and can experience unusual or severe weather, so you should have a good idea about your expectations first. We happen to love being on a ship and often make a cruise without getting off in ports that aren’t particularly interesting. We also are tolerant of bad weather, which includes a ship making, well, ship movements. For us, all of our cruises could be crossings and we’d be happy with that. But that’s just us.

The Island of Madiera in the Atlantic appears to be a well kept secret. This slow paced, friendly islandis worth a second, or third look.

The Island of Madiera in the Atlantic appears to be a well kept secret. This slow paced, friendly island is worth a second, or third look.

This voyage left Barcelona and sailed for two days to Madeira, Portugal. Madiera is a small island group in the Atlantic almost due west of Morocco and is a territory of Portugal. From there we made our crossing and arrival at St. Martin in the Caribbean after about eight days as sea. From there, we stopped in St. Thomas of the US Virgin Islands, then another two days at sea and finally arrived in Miami.

As a crossing, this was a great trip. We’d do it again in a heartbeat. The weather was good and the ports were okay, and the days at sea were all we expected.

The real question is, would we do it again on the Norwegian Epic?

Before we begin trashing a perfectly fine cruise ship and a great cruise line, we should mention that our opinion was not shared by all people we met on this cruise. While we weren’t particularly infatuated with this ship, there were lots of folks who were. Our opinions, in our opinion, is no more valid that there’s.

The Epic appears to be a giant cruise ship that was made really big just for the sake of being big. There were a little over 4,000 passengers on board, and a little over 1,700 crew. Lots of folks.

Balcony Room

Even though the overall ship was a bit of a disappointment, the room was an absolute plus for us. Photo by Donald Fink.

Our room, which was a reasonably nice outside balcony, was better than most ships we’ve been on. It reminded us of a sleek, expensive, luxury yacht. The design was a little unusual, and if you look at Cruise Critic, it seems like the room design is a bit controversial too. The problem is that there is no dedicated bathroom in the room. As you enter the room, there was a frosted glass enclosure on the right that comprised the shower, and a frosted glass enclosure on the left that was the toilet. Further into the room on the right, there was a sink and medicine cabinet. Separating this area from the rest of the room was a simple curtain that could be drawn for more privacy. It seems like some folks have a problem with this configuration, and we could see where under some circumstances this might be a problem. If, for example, two people were traveling as “friends”, they may not be used to each other’s bathroom habits. We can see the issue although it didn’t present a problem for us. We like pretty much everything about the room.

The food we encountered on the Epic was a bit better than other NCL ships. This is not to say that NCL food is bad in general, but there seems to be a definite hierarchy in terms of food we’ve experienced among the different cruise lines. On the Epic, the food ended up being just a shade better than other Norwegian ships. The biggest surprise for us was that the Garden Grill – the main buffet – was way better than we expected from a Norwegian Cruise Line ship.

One thing we look for when we first board a ship is the WOW factor. We have grown used to grand, sparkly atriums as you enter with sleek and shiny elevators that run the entire height of the ship. We’re used to beautiful multistory dining rooms with piano players at dinner, and special little places where passengers can sit and enjoy the surroundings. This ship was more “predictable”, meaning that there were no surprises in our view. There seemed to be endless corridors of cabins, the elevators were only located on each end of the ship, no big expansive spaces in the common areas. The casino appeared to be way larger than it needed to be based on its use, and you had to walk through it and its cigarette smoke to get virtually anywhere in the interior of the ship. The theater, while providing more leg room than many we’ve visited, was just so so in terms of its beauty.

The Caribbean port of St. Marten. Image by Donald Fink

The Caribbean port of St. Marten. Image by Donald Fink

Another thing to mention on the plus side was that the staff was all we expected from Norwegian Cruise lines. By saying this, we mean that the staff was courteous and friendly and generally competent, but there are areas where we believe they fell a bit short. Our cabin was rarely made up before noon, and the cabin attendant was only able to make the room down for the evening about eight of the fourteen nights. While we’re accustomed to having our cabin attendant pay a little attention to our habits and have the room made up after we leave for the morning. We’re also used to the room being turned down for the evening after we return from dinner. On most cruises we’ve been on, the cabin attendant quickly learned our habits and was able to perform these tasks. On this cruise, the attendant seemed to start at one end and work his way through without any regard for our (or other passenger’s) patterns. We don’t believe that it had anything to do with the attendant’s competence. Instead, we believe that he had too many rooms to deal with and was simply getting to things as he could. Other areas of the ship like table service in the Garden Grill and bar service were spot on. No complaints.

The ship’s internet was a dismal failure. When we first boarded, we signed up for 250 minutes of internet time for our 14 day crossing. The first day was a bit sluggish, but then it became so slow that we could only get actual use of the system when we first got up, around 6:30 AM. This is presumably because no one else was on. About half way across the Atlantic, the internet simply ceased to be useable. We could log in, but it would take about ten minutes to bring up our email page. After awhile, it finally just stopped working altogether. We visited the Internet Cafe, and the attendant there was able to give us a partial refund for the money we spent for the internet package. While it was a fair solution from a financial point of view, it was disappointing to not have access to email for most of the cruise.

So, while the food was pretty good and the room was a bit better than we expected, the honest answer as to whether we would cruise the Epic again is that we probably would not. In order to Cruise the Epic again on purpose, it would have to be going somewhere we really wanted to go, and there was no practical alternative way to get there.

Would we cruise with Norwegian Cruise Lines again? Sure we would. While the ship didn’t exactly wow us, remember that it’s all a matter of degree, and we still maintain that we’ve never met a cruise ship we didn’t like. So it’s not like we hated the ship, it’s more like we simply liked it less than other ships.

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