Norwegian Epic is now sailing all year round from Barcelona, offering freestyle cruising. Liz Jarvis finds out what guests can expect
It’s a balmy evening in the Mediterranean and we’ve just finished dining on fruits de mer and crème brûlée in Le Bistro, the superb French restaurant on board Norwegian Epic. There’s a lively atmosphere throughout the ship; karaoke in the nightclub, Bliss; rock stars Sting and Rod Stewart (or at least their look/sound-alikes) performing in one of the bars, and a pianist in the atrium. It feels as though there’s a party going on – and everyone’s invited.
With its water slides, hot tubs and contemporary spaces, Norwegian Epic is an incredibly cool ship, perfect for families (the kids’ clubs are state-of-the-art) and couples, but also, with its one-person studios, solo travellers as well. It’s also an ideal ship for a multi-generational holiday, and I notice lots of large family groups with grandparents and grandchildren in tow, none of whom appear to be squabbling, which is always a good sign. Those who prefer a slightly more exclusive experience can take advantage of a stay in the sophisticated Haven, but apparently even those guests will venture out onto the main decks and public areas in the evening – there’s simply so much going on, it’s hard to resist.
I’m staying in a family balcony stateroom which has a sofa bed and can also be booked with an adjoining room. It’s extremely well-designed; the lighting is great, there’s a split bathroom (w/c and shower) and privacy curtain making it ideal for those travelling with different aged children. There’s also a coffee-maker with a choice of coffee and tea, and a mini-bar. Décor is contemporary chic – dark shiny walnut-coloured cabinets, neutral fabrics with turquoise accents, some rather attractive pictures of pressed leaves – and the room is very comfortable. Not that you’ll spend much time in it, of course, because there’s simply too much going on around the ship.
With so many dining venues (20) on board the ship you’re never in danger of going hungry, but while it’s worth paying the charge for the speciality restaurants, particularly Le Bistro, the complimentary dining, which now includes Shanghai’s Noodle Bar, is excellent. In Taste, we order pancakes and smoked salmon eggs benedict, and it all arrives beautifully presented and completely delicious. Room service (again complimentary) yields American delights such as freshly-prepared chicken Caesar salad and a decadent New York cheesecake; and the steak in The Manhattan Room, the main dining room, is fantastic, the service impeccable.
At Cirque Dreams we dine while acrobats dangle precariously overhead; there are some extraordinary juggling acts and one particularly mind-blowing routine involving multiple costume changes in the space of seconds. We sit watching open-mouthed, which is just as well as our food isn’t quite so inspiring; still, the performers are superb, funny and constantly surprising. Other attractions include the ever popular Ice Bar. Everyone in our group enjoys the new Burn the Floor dance show, Ballroom Blitz, which features some slightly risqué sequences and extraordinarily good choreography; the audience – young, old and everyone in between – is captivated. When Priscilla Queen of the Desert arrives on board in October – a full-length version of the hit Broadway show – as well as The Cavern Club, with nightly performances by The Beatles tribute bands, Norwegian Epic will boast some of the best entertainment at sea.
The spa has heated beds, a large whirlpool and my deep tissue massage is carried out with verve. There’s also a fantastic sauna. During our short taster cruise we opt for an excursion to Palma de Mallorca and it’s an absolute joy from start to finish. Our British-born guide, who has lived on the island for 30 years, is extremely knowledgeable and interesting, and our tour includes a photo stop for pictures of the sparkling bay, before continuing to the illustrious Macià Batle vineyard, where we’re taken on a journey through the wine production process from start to finish; we also learn that 2012 was, apparently, not a good year for wine.
It’s a fascinating tour; afterwards there’s tasting, with full instruction, for those who wish to sample the wine (as a non-wine drinker I opt instead for the proliferation of flavoured balsamic vinegars and olive oil, mopped up with little snacks) and then it’s on to Palma itself for some free time.
We soak up the views of the royal palace of La Almudaina and La Seu cathedral, and enjoy a coffee in a picturesque square by the harbour, shaded from the Spanish sunshine by palm tress, all vowing to return to Palma again for a longer stay at the earliest available opportunity.
Back on the ship I’m delighted to find my stateroom attendant has left a towel animal on my bed in the shape of a pig. The following evening, it’s an elephant.
Apart from a slightly chaotic check-in, the entire Norwegian Epic experience is laid-back and carefree from start to finish – making it an ideal way to holiday in the Med. On our final night, during the karaoke session at Bliss, two women from the audience get up on stage to perform the Jackson Five’s I Want You Back. One of them is me. A Norwegian Cruise Line cruise is all about letting your hair down, having fun and going with the flow.
Norwegian Epic’s seven-night Western Mediterranean fly-cruises will sail weekly until the end of November and travel: Fly UK/Barcelona (Spain); Naples (Italy); Rome (Civitavecchia, Italy; Florence/Pisa (Livorno, Italy); Cannes (France); Palma (Majorca, Spain); Barcelona (Spain)/Fly UK. Priced from £814pp based on two people sharing an inside stateroom, flying from LHR on 8 November 2015. The itineraries then switch to the Canary Islands (ncl.co.uk/0845 201 8900).