We had booked the Epic's maiden voyage across the Atlantic for last June, but the old adage "God willing" popped up and we had to cancel for health reasons. So to finally sail aboard this magnificent ship was a distinct pleasure. As soon as we saw that Captain Hakan Svedung was at the helm (our third cruise with him) we were content. Also on board was our old friend Hotel Director Denis Prguda, who made our cruise a wonderful one. This trip we made a new friend Staff Captain Martin Tobias Akesson whose courtesy was outstanding. He saw a need and he filled it (more on this later).
EMBARKATION Saturday Oct. 10, 2010, I-95 was not congested --- Boca Raton to Miami was a 55 minute ride. Baggage drop off was easy, and we were in line for check-in only10 minutes at 1:00pm. After 15 minutes, we had assistance to Deck 12, but the rooms were not ready until 2:00pm; however, our Steward Richard took our walker and placed it in our room for us.
THE SHIP The Epic is a truly magnificent ship of epic proportions and deserves a back to back booking in order to fully enjoy it all. She was started in 2007 at STX Europe Shipyard in St. Nazaire, France, and sea trials began in Feb. 2010 and were completed in June just before delivery. This ship has 19 passenger decks, many with balconied cabins. Her gross tonnage is 153,000; overall length is 1,080 ft. and beam is 133 ft. Draft is only 28.5 ft. She is powered by Diesel Electric engines and cruises at 22 knots. Her guest capacity is 4,100 double occupancy; her crew numbers 1,730 --- a very nice crew to passenger ratio. The Epic has a series of Studios, inside cabins for one passenger, on Decks 11 and Deck 12, a very innovative idea which allows solo passengers to book at convenient prices. At boarding, we were given a compact pocket guide to the Epic which came in very handy. The major drawback to getting around was the exceptionally high thresholds. They created a problem for the wheelchair and the scooter. The crew was already at work correcting the situation.
Decks 1 through 4 are for crew only.
Deck 5 forward has the Epic Theater with wheelchair access and reserved seating. There is an excellent view of the stage from every seat --- not a pole in the house. Midship is the Photo Gallery and Internet Cafe` starboard. Port side is Le Bistro French cuisine, excellent ($20 fee). Also here are the Guest Service, Shore Excursion and Cruise Consultant Desks. At aft is Taste Restaurant with fine dining, where even shorts are allowed at dinner.
Deck 6 forward is the balcony of the Epic theater. Midship is the Headliners Comedy Show Bar and Spiegel Tent featuring "Cirque Dreams" ($20/30 fee) a dinner show that is very popular --- book it as soon as possible, even before you get on board, or you'll miss it! All the servers and the Maitre D' have entertainment skills and contribute to the fun.
Mid ship is also O'Sheehan's Pub with great food and informal dining (Fish and Chips, Shepherd's pie, pretzel rolls, etc...). This is the largest Pub afloat and there is a great view of the super size screen visible from Decks 5, 6 and 7. Football fans covet the specific barstools where they can watch the games, drink beer and eat the terrific pub food, simultaneously. The atmosphere was FANtastic.
Midship is also the huge Casino. Toward aft is Shanghai's Chinese Restaurant and Noodle Bar with lots of stools. Next, is the "Fat Cats Jazz & Blues Club", one of the many entertainment venues, smooth. All the way aft is the main dining room Manhattan with a small live combo with a great singer and dancing every night.
Deck 7 forward is Bliss Lounge with plush seating and the Bowling Alleys. The Library is also located here with very limited hours and books. This ship is very new and we are sure that some of the odd placement of areas will be corrected swiftly. Getting around in a wheelchair sometimes means going to one floor and then going down by elevator and then going back again; i.e. La cucina is accessible by going to Deck 15 and taking an elevator back to Deck 14. Awkward, but we made it. Then, there is also an escalator midship between Decks 5 & 6, which, for wheelchairs means going the length of the ship and back again to get to Passenger Services. There are only forward and rear elevators, but no central ones. All of these logistics take a bit of time to get use to, not to mention patience.
Midship are the Trade Winds Shops on board. Also located here are "Teppanyaki" and the Sushi Bar "Wasabi." Next are two more bars "Shakers," a martini bar, and "Maltings," a whiskey bar. There are over twenty bars on board so "bar hopping" can be very possible. There is a Barber Shop and the Humidor for fine cigars. Aft are two more alternative restaurants: Cagney's Steakhouse ($25 fee) and Moderno, a South American Churrascaria ($18 fee). Both are excellent dining options among more than 20 venues.
Deck 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, & 13 are mostly staterooms and studios.
Deck 14 has La Cucina Italian Restaurant ($10 fee); midship is "Recess" for kids and toward aft is "Pulse," the fitness center, and all the way aft is "Mandara," the spa and salon.
Deck 15 forward has the Garden Cafe` with buffet dining, then the kids "Aqua Park" with the "Epic Plunge" water slide --- HUGE. Aft are the "Video Arcade" and "Spice H2O" with a small pool, bar and two whirlpools.
Deck 16 forward has the Suites, "Epic Club and Courtyard Grill" for fine dining, the "Courtyards Pool and Spa." Midship there is the "Climbing Wall." Toward aft is "Entourage," the teen club, and all the way aft are the Spice H2O "Pool Grill" and "Pool Bar."
Deck 17 forward are more suites and aft is the sports complex.
Deck 18 has the Courtyard Sundeck, "Posh Beach Club," and the "Public Sundeck."
Deck 19 has the upper levels of the Posh and Freestyle Sundecks.
This is a huge beautiful ship with a sparkling central atrium chandelier three decks high in the configuration of six rings of various sizes of lighted crystals. Very unique and lovely.
FOOD & SERVICE The food is much improved over our last Norwegian cruise, and there are so many more venues to choose from in Freestyle. First night on we went to "Taste" on Deck 5: Vincent didn't even have to change out of his shorts in order to have a sit down meal! Although the menu is sparse, there are enough selections and variety to have a good meal.
We ate at Le Bistro and thoroughly enjoyed the escargot, the pate` fois gras terrine with apples and the frisee salad with duck breast confit. Mary had a delicious coq au vin and Vincent a perfectly broiled filet mignon. French roast coffee, made at the table in a French press percolator, was excellent with the profiteroles. The Bistro is decorated with millions of dollars of 20th century artwork by famous artists.
Our first day on board we discovered that getting around the Epic was difficult. Mary's foot rest on the wheelchair was jammed and bent at the exit to the Garden Cafe`. Maitre D' Boris Kojic was very concerned and he and his staff were extremely helpful as were all the crew members we encountered. We met Staff Captain Akesson and he sent ship's mechanic Herme Tenestrante to our cabin; he took the wheel chair overnight, fixed the foot pedal and returned it the next morning at 9:00am. He and his assistant Bernardo Bautista were a Godsend. Many thanks to Staff Captain Akesson, who made our cruise most enjoyable.
We also met Captain Hakan Svedung and know why service is so great: it is common knowledge that excellent service filters down from the top. He and H.D. Denis Prguda met with us and assured us the the door jambs are a high priority with NCL, since they are already being replaced as fast as possible. Denis' assistant Rashida Faustino took us on a private tour of the "Ice Bar". It was fantastic, like being in an igloo (-17 degrees Fahrenheit)! We met Chief Engineer Tore Johansson who showed us the compressed ice blocks, made in the U.S.A. The pressurized ice is so crystal clear that the designs inside are perfectly visible. There are two larger than life sculptures: a polar bear and a Viking warrior with a horned helmet. We now know why people don't freeze stuck to the seats; they are covered with woolly sheepskin pelts! Very Cool! There is a $20 fee for about a twenty minute stay and two Vodka shots are included.
We dined in "La Cucina" and the Italian food was much improved, but alas the pizza dough tasted like cardboard. The pastas were excellent and so was the osso buco. Dessert was a creamy ricotta cheese pie and panna cotta. We recommend it, the décor is lovely, and the view at the prow of the ship is wonderful.
We found the food much improved, and the service to be excellent.
CABIN Cabin #12267 has a unique design. When entering, on the left is a single sink with wheel chair access, a quadruple armoire with two wardrobes with hangers (one which can be lowered easily with a pull pole) and two with shelves and a personal safe. Next there is a refrigerator, a TV and a long shelf with four large drawers.
When entering on the right, there is a circular bathroom with a 4'x4' shower with a fold away seat and the commode to which our excellent steward Richard Espino added a riser. There were several hooks for clothes appropriately placed, both high and low.
After, there is a desk/vanity with lighted mirror and six drawers. Next, there is a high king sized, very firm bed, with a beige leather roll and tuck head board, flanked by reading lamps and a phone in easy reach. The carpeting simulates sand dunes; the woodwork is dark mahogany. The draperies and coverlet are teal blue. The walls have a series of three plexiglas rectangles with sketched elm leaves, very interesting.
Our steward Richard was terrific, he added a table to the oversized balcony (about 150 sq. ft.), so we could have breakfast and lunch outside, overlooking the ocean. We ordered breakfast from room service where Christopher always handled our order promptly. Our steward's assistant was the excellent Sheran Stewart-Bent. Everyone treated us wonderfully.
ENTERTAINMENT We were truly amazed at the many venues and entertainment possibilities; sports, exercise programs, swimming, trivia (with the bright Aisha from Boston), Casino games and contests and finally the terrific Vegas style shows. We saw the "Blue Men" and laughed ourselves silly. "Legends in Concert" was amazing; the Michael Jackson impersonator was so spot on that the girls next to us were screaming "Michael Lives!" He wowed the crowd with his dancing and costumes. Rod Stewart's "Legs" was a well choreographed production which brought the audience to its feet. The Second City Improvisation Group was on board, and we heard good things about them. All in all we say 4 Stars for entertainment. The children's Nickelodeon at sea program is well organized and popular.
DEBARKATION Considering that over 4,000 passengers were disembarking, it was a very orderly and speedy process. We had assistance with the wheelchair off the ship, to baggage pickup and through passport and customs and were outside on the curb awaiting our son Marcello in less than twenty minutes. Excellent!
CONCLUSION This was our seventh cruise on a NCL ship, but our 87th cruise overall. There have been a lot of changes in cruising since Vincent's first transatlantic sailing in 1956 on the Greek Line's Olympia, a 22,000 gross tons liner carrying 1300 passengers. And changes have occurred not only in the size of the ships, but mainly in the activities and entertainments available to the passengers. The Epic, at 153,000 tons, is about seven times bigger than the Olympia and she offers so many types of activities, dining and entertainment that makes the comparison to the old ship mind-boggling. On the Olympia and other ships of that time, we can recall how the days were spent: Morning walk on the promenade; breakfast, lunch and dinner in the same dining room; during the day, skeet shooting in the rear of the ship, shuffle board and ping-pong on the promenade; sunning, reading a book, or relaxing on a chase lounge on the sun deck; and ending the day listening and dancing to the music and songs by a combo group. By now-a-day standards that might seem boring, but in those days we were happy to enjoy the worry-free life of relaxation and the pleasure of being pampered, as we say in Italian the joy of "dolce far niente" (sweet do nothing)! We can still do this on the Epic and much more: Freestyle Cruising gives the cruisers many choices of activities, entertainments, shore excursions and dining. There is so much to do on this ship that a one week cruise is not enough to do all of the available alternatives, especially in dining (15 or more dining options). Perhaps, a two-week back-to-back cruise will be sufficient to experience all of what this ship offers.
We have already booked a future cruise while aboard the Epic (yet to be selected). Our next cruises will be on the Crown Princess, Nov. 6-13, Western Caribbean, Allure of the Seas, Nov. 23-26, cruise-to-nowhere and Jan. 23-30, Eastern Caribbean. Happy Cruising!