Europe Cruise 2012 – Epic Sea Day (Day 7)

(Author’s Note: So, it’s pretty sad when you’re on your next cruise while still trying to finish up recapping the previous one. Not to mention, I’ve been on two other trips since then that I want to write about, so I’m really behind. I can’t even blame being busy with work! 😉 I’m going to try to knock out all of my belated blog entries while I’m on this trip, though. I think it’s do-able. At some point, I’ll backdate all of these Europe Cruise posts to line up with the cruise dates, so don’t be surprised if they change in ordering in a few weeks.)

Our sea day was also my birthday, and NCL had given us a card to give our server at dinner for a special birthday surprise. I had also insisted that I wanted to go in the ice bar (which has a separate cover charge), so that was the majority of our plans. We also played trivia. In this post, I’ll cover what we did that day as well as talking about the NCL Epic in general.

Europe Cruise 2012

Europe Cruise 2012

I hadn’t talked about this before, because I was saving it for this entry, but we had decided to take advantage of an offer for a weeklong spa pass on this trip. When we got onboard in Rome, they were having a special where you could get 2 spa passes (intended for a couple) for $199, but you had to buy it on the day you board. Normally, you can get a day pass for $30 per person, but you can’t buy a day pass on the sea day. Since we didn’t have a balcony for this trip, we decided having the spa access would be a nice way to get some extra semi-private space. So, for the entire cruise, we were taking the chance to go lounge in the Epic’s hydro-spa every chance we got. I think we went every single day. I know I went twice on the sea day. They have a pool with water jet massagers and a roller bed with massage bubbles that you can lounge in. One corner of it has a literal whirlpool area, with water swirling such that you have to really fight to stay upright (or you can just let go and float in it). They also have a hot tub. And, what really sold me on it was that they had these stone loungers that were heated that you could lay on. The heat felt marvelous, and it was a great place to relax with my Kindle. There was an aft-facing balcony with more loungers (normal ones). The sauna and steam rooms also had floor to ceiling windows. (I have to assume the windows are tinted or mirrored or something…but maybe not. Who knows. It’s clothing optional in the women’s one, at any rate.) The spa was stocked with flavored water, fruit, teas, and coffee, so it was a good place to grab a drink. The spa pass also allowed us to use the spa’s shower and changing areas, which had much better showers than the in-room ones (certainly more spacious and possibly better water pressure). Basically, we decided this splurge was worth it specifically because we were in an inside cabin. The spa gave us a place where we could have a semi-private balcony as well as where we could relax or lounge like we usually do in our balcony rooms. If you’re trying to save money on a cruise on the Epic but you’re used to having a balcony stateroom, I do think doing this method (inside room + spa pass) is a good idea. It’s definitely cheaper than the upgrade.

I also wanted to comment generally on my thoughts about the Epic in this post. You can consider this my brief review of the NCL Epic. The Epic has some definite flaws compared to other NCL ships, but it has some big advantages, too. You have to decide whether the flaws are important to you or not.

Things I didn’t like about the Epic:

  • Elimination of The Great Outdoors (and no equivalent) – One of my favorite parts of sailing on NCL’s ships is the area that they call The Great Outdoors. It’s a mini-buffet and bar on the aft part of the lido deck, generally separated from the rest of lido by the main buffet and the Italian restaurant. I love it because it’s a place you can go, outside, to enjoy a cool beverage in relative quiet (no bands or loud music), with tables that are suitable for sitting with a laptop. If you read cruising forums, NCL fans are generally big fans of TGO. It is one of the things that distinguishes NCL’s ships from other cruise lines, kind of like how Royal Caribbean is distinguished by the crown lounge. On the Epic, NCL replaced the TGO area with a giant movie screen, an adults-only pool, and a terraced area going up to the next floor’s bar. At night, the pool gets covered with a dance floor and the whole area becomes an ultralounge. Oh, and the pool for adults is teeny tiny. I’ve seen jacuzzis bigger than the pool. The movie screen never got used. You’d think they’d show movies under the stars there or something, but they don’t. They don’t even show sports during the day on it. It’s almost totally unused. So, the replacement for TGO was yet another tanning/lounging pool area with little difference or change versus the existing lounge areas. It’s loud. The only drinks are bar drinks. And, there’s only a few “normal” tables. Most of the seating is loungers and side tables.
  • Bathroom design – Lots of ship reviews and blogs have blasted the design of the bathrooms on the Epic. Someone really wasn’t thinking when they thought up the design. In each stateroom on board, the traditional bathroom — a separate, doored-off space containing all the necessities — has been deconstructed. As you enter a cabin, on one side is a shower with a sliding glass (actually plastic made to look like glass) door. To the other side, you’ll find the toilet in its own little booth, also with a sliding glass door, and there’s a curtain you can pull across the whole entryway/bathroom area for privacy. The sink and medicine cabinet are in the cabin itself, just beyond the toilet and shower booths. I’m guessing they did this design to allow 2-3 people to use the facilities simultaneously. However, it just fails miserably. Let’s start with the sink. It’s on the desk, and the sink is too small for the faucet it has. The water frequently shoots right out of the sink and splashes the surrounding space, which will often have your laptop and electronics, since it’s near the only easily accessible outlets. Stupid. Now, for the toilet and shower, the problem is that the space is very small, even more so than the typical cruise bathroom. I commented in an earlier post (albeit slightly hidden) that I couldn’t adopt a wide stance in that bathroom. And, I should remind you that the door for both the toilet and shower is *frosted faux glass*. It’s see-through, pretty much. Yes, you can pull the privacy curtain, but a cabinmate coming in would see you. If you’re a couple, it’s less of a big deal, but it’s still a little strange. Also, because they deconstructed the bathroom, there’s no ventilation for the bathroom. Most cruise ships put a vent in the bathroom space that either is on a timer or triggers based on the light switch. The bathroom will also have a lipped entryway (unless it’s a handicapped room) that helps keep any water spills contained. The Epic’s toilet and shower have no ventilation fan, probably because they’re separate pods. This means that a stinky toilet visit stinks up the room, and a hot shower steams up the room. The floor outside the shower is frequently wet, either from steam or a faulty door seal. So, you better be in shoes or bare feet in that area lest you get wet socks. The rest of the cabin design was great, and, having peeked in at some of the larger rooms, the “wave” design is smart. I think it’s cool that the Epic created rooms specifically for singles, too. But, the bathroom design is just ridiculous and practically ruins the ship. You certainly wouldn’t want to sail the ship with a family because of the privacy issues.
  • The Posh area – The Epic has an area called The Posh Bar. It’s a bar and lounge area only accessible to guests at the Suite level or higher (mini-suites don’t count). Extra perks for suite+ customers aren’t unusual, but this particular one irks me. I accidentally ended up in the Haven at one point, not realizing where I was and having hopped on the elevator with someone else. It’s very nice. I loved it immediately. While not as awesome as The Great Outdoors, it had shaded lounge pods that I loved, with cushy pillows, and misters to keep you cool. (I later found similar pods in the bow section of lido, but they were very popular and hard to get. Also, they were frequently wet.) So, I will say that some of this may be sour grapes, but it bugs me that they had this space and rather than just making it an adults-only area or a daypass area (like the spa), they put it for suite guests. Suite guests have a giant-ass balcony that could hold a pod. They have no reason to use a space like that (and sure enough, it was deserted when I was there, on a sea day in mid-afternoon). It’s just a waste. Plus, think of why you go to a bar on a ship, to sit. You go to be *with* people. It makes little sense to go to this exclusive bar area that has no one in it. Yet, there were no less than five staff there, sitting around idle with little to do. Stupid. Yes, I know it wouldn’t be as nice if it were public, but I would have gladly paid for a daypass or cover charge for a guaranteed quiet lounging area. Then, you can give the suite guests access for free as their perk but let other folks buy their way in for a reasonable rate.

Things I liked about the Epic:

  • The Entertainment – The entertainment on this ship was amazing. You have Blue Man Group, a Cirque show, Improv/Howl at the Moon, and Legends in Concert. (On our cruise, because we were in Europe, Improv was replaced by a Spanish juggling/music act.) I also liked that almost every show plays each night, so you can go to what you’re in the mood for instead of having to conform your mood to the one show playing each evening. It felt like being in a mini-Vegas. The only thing that sucked was that the BMG show was the exact same one they do (or did, possibly) in Chicago, so it was kind of boring to us. Howl at the Moon was awesome, though. As soon as that kicked in (it is dark for half the trip), we went every night.
  • The casino design – Now, some people complain about the casino on the Epic. It takes up most of a floor. And, yes, that floor can be hard to traverse when the casino is busy. What I liked, though, is that it having its own floor meant they had to design traversal space that wasn’t through the casino (since kids can go in the casino). Most ships practically force you to walk through the casino to cross the ship internally (i.e., not on the lido deck). On the Epic, there’s two traversal floors, with the casino being the lower one. They also had to manage the smoke really well because it’s a traversal floor, so there are purifiers every few feet. It was probably the least smoky ship casino I’ve seen. The casino bar was also convenient to the formal dining room, which was nice for us with our free casino drink cards.

Europe Cruise 2012

Beyond these notable things, the food was terrific and the service was awesome. I expect those things to be great on a cruise, and the Epic was no exception.

So…back to what we did on the sea day… We showed up for Bridge, but no one else did, so we gave up on that. We went to all the trivia they had that day (I think two or three). Despite not really finding good trivia partners (unusual for us!), we won one of them, and the prize was the most useful prize I’ve ever gotten for ship trivia: a fold-up frisbee with the NCL logo. When folded up, it’s a small disc about the circumference of a can of veggies. It’s thin and lightweight, not even an ounce. When you unfold it though, it pops into frisbee size, and it makes a terrific fan! It’s now in my bin of things that I dig through and decide whether to pack when appropriate, along with things like headlamps, waterproof camera, small tote bags, etc.

We had made some friends early in the cruise that we had plans to meet with to go in the ice bar. When you go into the ice bar, they provide parkas and little stretchy knit gloves. When you walk in, it very much feels like walking into a freezer, because that’s pretty much what it is. There’s even those plastic dangling things that you walk through in freezers.

Europe Cruise 2012

Your admission also gets you two complimentary drinks, served in cups made of ice. The drinks feature Smirnoff vodka, Inniskillin ice wine, or both. I sampled two drinks, and DH had two different ones. We didn’t find a truly bad drink in the bunch, but the orange ones were our favorites. The ice bar has a few ice sculptures that you can photo and pose with. Mostly, what I learned is that I’m meant to live in a freezer. It was the most comfortable that I had been on the whole cruise. Yeah, my legs and toes eventually got chilly; I was wearing flip flops, after all. But, it was just all nice and cozy.

Europe Cruise 2012

Europe Cruise 2012

Europe Cruise 2012

Europe Cruise 2012

Europe Cruise 2012

Europe Cruise 2012

At dinner, my treat was a mini birthday cake, which was very cute. I brought Duffy with me to dinner to celebrate.

Europe Cruise 2012

Later that evening, we went to the Howl at the Moon bar, which was always super-fun. It’s a sing-along dueling piano bar. Our friends got called up to dance at one point. We requested happy birthday for me, but it was taking too long, and we got tired before they played it. Our friends told us they played it for me right after I left. But, we were happy to crash in anticipation of our day in Naples and Pompeii.

Europe Cruise 2012

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