REVIEW: Norwegian Epic (Sept 2018)

Norwegian Epic cruise (copyright NCL)

In September 2018 my partner and I celebrated our anniversary onboard NCL’s Norwegian Epic. She’s a one of a kind cruise ship, part of a class that was never finished, and comes with a unique style all of her own.

So grab yourself a Pina Colada and let us take you on a whirlwind tour of our week long anniversary cruise about Norwegian Epic.

The cruise

The cruise embarked in Barcelona, started with a day at sea, then onto Naples, Rome (Civitavecchia), Florence/Pisa (Livorno), Cannes, Palma Majorca, and back to Barcelona.

All in all seven days of sun in the Med. Perfect.

Embarkation in Barcelona

We flew from Gatwick to Barcelona using EasyJet. This airline has really upped their game in the last few years, offering service better than many legacy airlines and at a fraction of the price. They’ve not got a bad gin selection either.

On arrival in Barcelona your best bet is to head straight to the taxi rank. You can fuss around using public transport, or cruise line transfers, if you like but the quickest and simplest way is to use an official Barcelona Taxi.

The taxis in Barcelona are easy to pick out in their yellow and black paint jobs, and the cruise fare from the El Prat (BCN) airport to the Moll Adossat Cruise Terminal is fixed €39. Considering the journey time of approx 40 minutes, and you can get 4 people and their luggage in a taxi I’d call that a bargain.

Although the cruise terminal was busy on arrival this modern purpose built terminal was more than able to cope with the number of people arriving.

We were through security, check-in, and on the boat in less than an hour.

First impressions of Norwegian Epic

As mentioned earlier Norwegian Epic is the only ship of her kind in existence. Part of the F3 programme there were intended to be two ships, but only one was ever built before NCL moved on to the Breakaway Class.

Epic has many admirers and detractors due to her in-your-face exterior design and quirky internal layout – she truly is the marmite of cruise ships. But there’s definitely plenty to love here.

Norwegian Epic turns heads wherever she goes. Pictured here in Cannes, France.

Christened in 2008, Epic weighs in at an mega-ship worthy 155,873GT, measures 329 metres long and is 19 decks high. She has a passenger capacity of 4,100 and can cruise at an speedy 22 knots.

As soon as we got on we felt a real vibe of excitement, this was definitely a ship where people came to enjoy themselves. The passengers seemed happy, the crew seemed happy and the drinks were flowing. The cruise had begun.

Our Stateroom

Our cabin, highlighted.

When we booked the cruise we chose an ‘guarantee’ balcony stateroom. What this means is that you pay the lowest possible price for a balcony cabin, which the cruise line will allocate to you a few days before you cruise.

We were allocated stateroom 13265, which is on Deck 13 aft starboard, just below the day spa. The location was perfect for us as we’d bought Thermal Spa passes for the whole week, so we could go up one deck to the spa or up two decks to the aft pool area.

When we arrived at our cabin the crew had decorated it for our anniversary and given us a fruit basket, cake, and sparkling wine. This was all a really lovely surprise – completely out of the blue!

As you can see the cabin designs in Epic are quite different to the cruise ship norms and utilise their ‘wave concept’ design. In that the cabins aren’t straight boxes but the walls are waves with beds and sofas going in the dips and crests.

Whilst this looks quite nice it unfortunately made getting around the end of the bed, which was shorter than a normal bed to accommodate this room design, difficult at times. We’re both about 6ft and our feet did dangle off the end of the curved bed.

There was plenty of storage in our cabin, with two wardrobes, lots of drawers, cupboards and even cubby holes behind the sofa and above the bed.

The cabin had a two seater sofa which turns into a bed if needed, a small chiller-style fridge, and an interactive LCD TV.

The bathroom design is one of the more controversial aspects of Epic’s design. Instead of having the shower, toilet and sink all in one bathroom they’ve split it all out. The shower has its own pod and the toilet has its own pod.

The issue with these pods is that they are made from frosted glass and offer very little in the way of privacy – be that visual, sound or odour. Unless you’re very comfortable with your travelling partner this could be an issue. The sink makes its way into the cabin, which I actually quite liked as it meant one of you could shave/brush teeth/do hair as the other showered.

Cabin layout diagram from NCL – same layout as our cabin.

Our balcony was plenty spacious and had two mesh chairs with footrests, it felt nice and private at all times of the day.

The only real issue we had with out cabin was vibrations from the engines, we don’t know if it was particular to our cabin or the whole aft of the ship, but at 5am every morning we’d be woken by a tremendous vibration as the ship pulled into port, this shook everything from us to those glass bathroom doors – which made quite a din. We learnt that shoving a tissue or flannel in the door gap quietened the noise.

Bars and Lounges

If there’s one thing Norwegian Epic can do well it’s entertain you and keep you hydrated! The sheer number of venues was truly… epic.

Starting on Deck 5 we have the Atrium Bar, this is in the atrium of Norwegian Epic – I found this atrium to be a little underwhelming compared to atriums of other cruise ships. It was dark and had low ceilings, in my humble opinion atriums should be soaring high spaces with lots of light – like those found on Royal Caribbean or Princess ships.

Moving up onto Deck you’ve got NCL’s signature bar O’Sheehan’s Neighbourhood Bar & Grill which serves up everything from pints, to cocktails, to casual food like wings and hot dogs. You can also grab a swift breakfast here.

O’Sheehan’s Bar & Grill aboard Norwegian Epic

Moving aft on Deck 6 there’s The Cavern Club, a Beatles themed live music bar; The Casino Bar; and Cascades Bar.

Taking the steps up to Deck 7 you’ll find yourself at an unmarked bar between Cagney’s Steakhouse and Moderno Churrascaria. This bar was a great place to grab a quiet martini before or after dinner. One of Epic’s best kept secrets.

Moving forward there’s the Maltings Beer & Whiskey Bar on your left, a great venue with some signature cocktails; Shakers Martini Bar, a very popular spot onboard which made seating an issue but the aviator martinis were worth the wait and the Sake Bar serving up both warm and ice cold sake. Right at the front of the deck you’ll find the Bliss Ultra Lounge, Epic’s nightclub. Dripping with gold, black marble and crystals, this bar is the very definition of opulent.

Mid Deck 7 you’ll find the SVEDKA Ice Bar. This ice bar, made of ice, serving cocktails made with vodka & ice wine, in glasses made of ice, is the only one of its kind at sea.

(Inside the SVEDKA ice bar – click images to enlarge)

There is an entry fee, which varies based on the day and time, which gets you access to the ice bar, a warm poncho, and two speciality drinks once you’re inside. It was certainly worth the fee for this unique experience in our opinion.

Heading up on to Deck 15 you’ll hit the Great Outdoors buffet which has its own bar, leaving the great outdoors and heading onto the pool deck you’ll find the Waves Pool Bar. We did think one bar on the main pool deck was woefully inadequate for a ship of this size, and we’d hope NCL consider adding a second on her next refresh.

Walking all the way aft you’ll get to the Spice H20 area, this is an adults only sunbathing area set up amphitheatre style. There are two decent sized bars and a small plunge pool. At night this area is used as the outdoor nightclub.

Hopping up to Deck 16 you’ll find all the private Haven Courtyard bars and restaurants if you’re lucky enough to have access to that part of the ship.

Finally Deck 18 is home to POSH. POSH is an exclusive sun terrace and bar that only 120 people per cruise have access to. This is usually allocated well before the cruise, but thanks to a lovely officer onboard we managed to get ourselves week long access. It is such a calm spot – if you can get POSH access, get POSH access.

(Life on the POSH Terrace – click to enlarge)

Notable lacking on Norwegian Epic, is the Spinnaker observation lounge & bar which we’ve really enjoyed onboard NCL ships. This ship is very ‘inward looking’ and we failed to find any bars with a sea-view unfortunately. This was a big disappointment for us.

Dining Options

There was certainly no shortage of places to eat aboard Epic – whether you’re looking for complimentary and speciality dining you’ll never go hungry.

Your complimentary dining options are:

Chandelier hanging three stories above the Taste Restaurant
  • Manhattan Dining Room: This is one of two main dining rooms, beautifully appointed art-deco styling and a soaring two-storey ceiling gives this place a great ambiance. There’s even sea-views and live music during dinner.
  • Taste: This is the second main dining room. More informal but no less stylish. Think modern European meets stained glass beach house and you’ll get someway there. Try and get a table near one of the windows. Both dining rooms serve the same menu.
  • O’Sheehan’s Bar & Grill: This spot, just above the atrium serves casual food around the clock. Whether it’s a quick cooked breakfast, or a hot dog & wings you’ll be able to get a fast bite here.

(“Breakfast” at O’Sheehan’s – click to enlarge)

  • Shanghai’s Noodle Bar & Shanghai’s Chinese Restaurant: We were pleasantly surprised to see what would be a speciality restaurant on most other lines offered complimentary on NCL. The aromas coming from the Chinese kitchens had our stomachs rumbling every time we walked past.
  • Garden Cafe / Great Outdoors: Combined these make up Epic’s buffet offering. There’s plenty of space inside with wonderful sea views over the bow of the ship, and even more seating on the main pool deck area. The buffet was truly Epic, everything was fresh and hot. I really enjoyed the fresh pasta station.

The speciality dining options are:

  • Cagney’s Steakhouse: Located Deck 7 aft, Cagney’s shares its space with Moderno Churrascaria. Each restaurant has one side of the ship, divided by that unmarked martini bar I mentioned earlier. The bar makes an excellent place to wait for your table, any excuse for a drink eh? The space feels very up-scale old-style New York steakhouse, with lots of dark wood and luxurious fabrics. (Cover charge applies)

Dinner at Cagney’s aboard Norwegian Epic (click to enlarge)

  • Moderno Churrascaria: As mentioned before you’ll find Moderno up on Deck 7. This is a Brazilian steakhouse and grill where you help yourself to sides from one of the most beautifully stocked buffets I’ve ever seen, and then waiters will come to you with meats on skewers – serving them directly onto your plate using a sword. Everything here was so full of flavour, and you simply have to finish with the grilled pineapple – even if you don’t have room. Do it. (Cover charge applies)
  • Wasabi: A traditional sushi bar where hand rolls and nigiri are made to order in front of you. We didn’t eat here but the food looked incredible. (a la carte pricing)
  • La Cucina: No specialty dining line-up would be complete without an Italian trattoria. Cucina is found directly below the buffet, and can actually be accessed via a staircase from the buffet area. Freshly made spaghetti, perfectly spun pizza bases and succulent parma ham all come together in this inside-out themed restaurant space. Informal but still an event. (Cover charge applies)
  • Le Bistro: An art nouveau restaurant reflecting all things French is one of NCL’s signature dining venues. Expect many courses, impeccable service and plating with a flair.
  • Teppanyaki: Dinner and a show? Here Japanese chefs do party tricks as they prepare fresh seafood and mouthwatering steaks right in front of you on the hibachi grills. Order one of the set menus and spend your evening trying different meats and matched cocktails. (Cover charge applies)

(Dinner at Teppanyaki onboard Norwegian Epic – click to enlarge)

  • The Haven Restaurant: I normally wouldn’t include one of the private retreat restaurants in my reviews, partly because I rarely sail in these suites and partly because 99% of people won’t get access to them. But we were lucky enough to be given access to the The Haven Restaurant for one evening – on our anniversary. The decor, the attention to detail and he unobtrusive serving style all make this an incredibly relaxing place to dine and spoil yourself. The food too was out of this world, everything we had was perfectly cooked to order and served quickly. Thank you to NCL, and Vina in particular, for looking after us on our anniversary.

(Our anniversary dinner in The Haven Restaurant – click to enlarge)

Activities on board

Let me just start out by saying that if you’e one of those people who thinks they’ll be bored on a cruise ship because there’s “nothing to do” then Epic might be the ship to change you mind.

  • Pool Deck & Aqua Park: Epic’s, admittedly oddly arranged, Pool Deck is also home to the Aqua Park. This combined space has two swimming pools, five hot tubs, and two large waterslides – including the only bowl-and-dunk waterslide at sea where you fly around on an inflatable inner-tube.
  • Bowling: Epic has not one but two bowling alleys onboard, located in O’Sheehan’s Bar & Grill, or in the Bliss Ultra Lounge. Try your hand at scoring a strike with a daiquiri in-hand.
  • SVEDKA Ice Bar: As mentioned before Epic is home to the only true ice bar at sea, what could be cooler (see what I did there) than sipping on a drink made of ice wine, in an ice glass, in a bar made of ice?
  • Cirque Dreams: Think of a big top Spiegel tent. Now think of a cruise ship. Now put that tent in the middle of the cruise ship. This unique space is used for nightly performances of cirque theatrics and stunts – all paired with a three course menu (Cover charge applies)
  • Headliner’s Comedy Club: At this 80s retro vibe comedy club nightly performances from an array of entertainers will keep you laughing until it’s time for bed. Everything from family friendly to leave the mother-in-law at home.
  • The Epic Theatre: Epic’s huge modern theatre is able to seat hundreds of guests at once for a variety of sizzling performances. The headline act at time of our visit and of writing is ‘Priscilla Queen of The Desert’ (containing adult themes, humour and language), other performances include Ballroom Blitz and Blazing Boots.
  • Fitness Centre: The onboard fitness centre is vast, offering the very latest in exercise machines, weights, workout spaces, and fitness classes such as yoga and pilates.

Activities onboard Norwegian Epic (click to enlarge)

Leisure on board

All of that sound like far too much work? There’s plenty to do with your feet up.

  • The Thermal Suite: For a daily or cruise-length fee you can have access to the exclusive Thermal Suite. This warm cosy space on Deck 13 is home to a Thalassic Therapy Pool, Two hot-tubs Three steam rooms, four saunas, heated stone loungers, and a private balcony with day beds. We spent faaaaar too much of our cruise here.
  • The Pool Deck: Not all of the pool deck is for fun and games. There’s plenty of space for sunbathing in peace and quiet, and if you’re really seeking solitude then head to Deck 18 where there’s a quiet sundeck – no music, no kids. Just sun. You will need to get your own drinks however.
  • The Mandara Spa: Located on Deck 13 this is the biggest day spa at sea featuring dozens of treatment rooms and hundreds of different treatments, each performed with Elemis products. Pamper yourself until you’re ready to be rolled for dinner.
  • Shopping: Epic has plenty of shopping onboard for those looking to splash a little cash. Whether you’re looking for souvenirs, duty free, clothes, watches, or even electronics there’s a store for you.

Final thoughts

Parting thoughts from NCL. Words to live by.

The Epic is an odd beast. A one of a kind from a cancelled class of ships, yet she led the way with some of the most iconic features found on ships today like multiple freestyle main dining rooms, Haven retreat spaces, and Solo Traveller cabins & lounges.

Epic was beautifully maintained, spotless and clearly well cared for. The staff couldn’t do enough to keep you happy either. A special shout out goes to the Hotel Director’s assistant, Vina, who really went the extra mile to ensure we had the best possible anniversary – she really is a credit to NCL.

We were never bored, not even for one moment, there was always something to do – and even if you wanted to do nothing there were several options for that too.

I wouldn’t say Epic was our favourite ship, but we heartily enjoyed our time on her and NCL is quickly becoming one of our preferred cruise lines.

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If this was helpful to you consider sharing it using the buttons below. Have you sailed on Epic before? Got a sailing lined up? What’s your favourite NCL ship? Got a question I haven’t answered here? Feel free to leave a comment, or contact me on twitter at @CruisingWithTom or Instagram at @TomLovesCruising

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