Cruise ships are a little odd – being neither hotel nor vehicle, one destination or another. But as someone more accustomed to travel on land, I was keen to test drive a cruise aboard Norwegian Epic to see how it fit with my travel style.
This wasn’t my first ever cruise, in fact I was lucky enough to be on board for Norwegian Epic’s launch in 2010, so I was already familiar with many of its features. And for anyone who has cruised aboard one of the modern, larger ships before, you’ll know that these features are many.
Norwegian Epic has 15 restaurants, 20 bars and lounges including the first Ice Bar at sea, a circus-themed restaurant, entertainment from Blue Man Group, two nightclubs, an aqua park, a spa, art gallery, and shops.
As we boarded Norwegian Epic in Barcelona I found my stateroom – 10127, towards the front of mid-ship. Unlike the family room shown in this video, which was very spacious, my stateroom was slightly tight on space, but not so as to be uncomfortable, and of course space is much more limited on ships than on land.
The room also had a clever wavy design with the curved edges allowing for a little more space than standard staterooms on other ships. One thing that has always impressed me about Norwegian Epic is the amount of storage in the staterooms – there’s a full-sized wardrobe, a half-sized one for shirts and trousers, a large cupboard (secreting away a safe), plus many other cupboards above the sofa and bed.
The stateroom bathrooms have long been controversial – if that isn’t an odd way to describe a bathroom. But the large shower, and separate toilet have frosted glass doors, which ostensibly could leave you visible to a friend you were sharing the room with, and are separated from the rest of the room by just a curtain.
But in truth, the bathroom set up is fine especially if you’re sharing accommodation with a partner, or aren’t overly bashful and worried about someone being able to see your bodily outline.
Norwegian Epic puts the world at your feet
We were set to sample a section of Norwegian Epic’s Mediterranean cruise, cutting a path from Barcelona to Naples, where we’d take a Mount Vesuvius and Pompeii excursion, and Rome. But despite the fact that the Norwegian ship runs a regular schedule of Mediterranean cruises (then Caribbean in winter), I wondered – was it possible to have a sense of place on a cruise? Ships will naturally take you to multiple destinations all over the world but you usually just get a taster of your port of call.
Certainly restaurants on board serve every international palate with an impressive selection of dishes, from a Brazilian Churrascaria, or steakhouse, through to the epicurean entertainment of the Japanese Teppanyaki. Then there’s my favourite – the rather Parisian, Le Bistro, where I highly recommend the snails to start and fruits de mer for a main dish.
But if there’s one thing they all have in common is that the food on board is plentiful and delicious. Interestingly ships are also full board – I’d hesitate to say all-inclusive – all cruise ships are different, but few include drinks. However Norwegian Cruise Lines’ rates include all meals, entertainment, nightclubs and facilities.
We had a fantastic night watching The Blue Man Group – the excellent blue-faced show, which has a Las Vegas residency, has also been at home on Norwegian Epic since it launched. It really does have to be seen as the show is almost indescribable – except to say it’s brilliant, clever and very funny. We didn’t get to sample one of my other favourite shows/restaurants this time but I highly recommend a night at the Speigal Tent – a Big Top circus dinner show that’s one of the best at sea.
These shows and a few other entertainment venues, and the speciality restaurants, attract a small supplement but are well worth the money.
Elsewhere in the Norwegian Epic world I enjoyed the Ice Bar – yes, just like a giant freezer but with better cocktails – which reminded me a little of the one in London. Then there was Spice H2O – the Ibiza-styled open-air beach club, which has a great atmosphere and is a perfect place to take in the warm nights of the Mediterranean.
Only one area of the ship didn’t really chime with my favourite destinations around the world. As I walked through the swimming pool area very early one evening I felt like I was in Benidorm, in Spain. It was thronging with people and a little like a theme park with people shouting, drinking beer and cocktails and flying down the water slides while music pounded over loud speakers. But I suppose as with most things in travel it’s a case of horses for courses, and at least the ship can say it has something for everyone.
It’s important to note though that this was one particular part of a 19-deck ship, at a particular time of day. There are plenty of places to escape the crowds, even at sea.
Haven of luxury
And, if you’re looking for an altogether more upscale experience, you can also upgrade to a suite in The Haven. This area mostly on the upper decks and with private access on decks 18-19, has Posh Beach Club – with its own pool and outdoor area, private reception, lounge and bar, it has the exclusivity of a St Tropez-style beach club. The penthouses and villas here are large and luxurious, with very stylish interiors and additional features like separate dining areas, floor to ceiling windows, whirlpool baths, butler and concierge service.
After a night at sea, we docked at Naples, first of our Italian stops. We’d only sailed across the Mediterranean Sea from Barcelona, and yet I felt I’d been so much further. To be onboard ship is to be in an unique environment, and perhaps, Norwegian Epic had somehow transported me around the world.
More destination inspired ships to come
Norwegian Getaway which launched earlier this year and is home-porting in Miami, with sailings to the Caribbean, has many of the facilities of Norwegian Epic, but features a multitude of Miami-inspired venues.
The cruise line will also launch a further two ships in 2015 – Norwegian Bliss and Escape. These will be much larger than Norwegian Epic, carrying up to 4,200 passengers, and Norwegian Cruise Lines say they are set to include “a number of new spaces and interactive experiences”.
An inside stateroom on a Norwegian Epic Mediterranean cruise starts from £890 per person, based on two people sharing and return flights from London Heathrow on October 19, 2014.
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Looks like so much fun!
Sarah Lee says
It certainly was Andi – would recommend it!
Do you know, when someone tries to tell me I’d enjoy a cruise my reaction is always “Blah,” but this seriously appeals to me! AND you met the Blue Man Group!!!!!
Sarah Lee says
Glad it opened you up to the possibility of a cruise, Linda. This one’s certainly about enjoying it in your own way – and there’s plenty of options on board to keep most people happy. Ah, am sure you’d love Blue Man Group – they’re brilliant!
Great descriptions!!! I leave in a month for a medi cruise on the Epic. I have been on one previous cruise. Is it very foral attire at night??? Do you dress up for the shows, we are going to the Cirque show and blue man group. Is there much time for laying by the pool or during the day are you at destinations and travelling in the evenings and night?
Sarah Lee says
Hi Lynn. There’s no formal clothing required on Norwegian’s cruises at all. Their Freestyle Cruises means you can wear whatever you like in the restaurants (though beachwear would be restricted to the pool area of course!). There are no formal evenings, generally though people dress up a little (smart casual) for dinner and shows, I’ve certainly never seen black ties and evening dresses on Norwegian cruises.
Hope you enjoy Blue Man and Cirque Dreams – they’re fab!
Pool time largely depends on you – there might be a day or two at sea on your cruise, so yes, plenty of time to laze poolside. And of course you don’t have to go ashore on port days, but if you do you’ll usually have to be back on board by about 4/5pm to sail at night. Have fun!
Dana Carmel @ Time Travel Plans says
I have yet to experience a cruise, but my husband and I have been considering taking one to the Caribbean. Based on the looks of the Epic, Norwegian’s line of ships seem fabulous, so perhaps we’ll have to head to the Caribbean on one of their lines.
Sarah Lee says
Ooh can I come with you, Dana!? The Caribbean would be fantastic. Yes, Norwegian have some exciting new ships with fantastic attractions onboard, so you’ll have a good choice. Do tell us all about it when you travel.
Hey, I was looking at going on Norwegian Epic next year but need a few things clearing up on what is and isn’t included. For example it says full board but what does that mean? Does it mean all drinks and food in certain restaurants? Are there many of these which are included in the booking fee? Do the restaurants make it clear which charge and which don’t? Is the spa included or just certain parts of it? Just need to know as I would love to go on a cruise but don’t want to be paying out huge amounts on top of the initial charge. Despite searching everywhere nowhere has been clear on these points. Many thanks!
Sarah Lee says
Hi Sian, full board on ships usually means all meals, sometimes it can include some soft drinks, but rarely alcohol (although some cruise lines are now introducing drinks and all-inclusive packages). You will also have to pay a small supplementary fee for certain speciality restaurants. But even if you chose not to go to them you’d find plenty of choice in the inclusive eateries. However the supplements are not very great and the food in the speciality restaurants is usually of a high standard. I’m a real fan of Le Bistro on Norwegian Epic and the Spiegel Tent is also well worthwhile for the experience. It’s also very clear which ones charge – charges are listed in the daily newsletter and outside them.
I think the spa is included but I’m not 100% sure. I think you can use the facilities but would pay extra for treatments. Hope this helps!