Transatlantic Cruise on the Norwegian Epic to Barcelona
Crossing the Atlantic on a ship to the Mediterranean is something Terry did often during his 4 years in the Navy. We thought it would be a fun thing for us to do together; me for the first time and for him to do again (yet a bit different accommodations that in the Navy). We didn’t want to just cross the Atlantic and fly back. Instead we wanted to experience several places that have been on our list and places to go and that Terry had been during his stint in the Navy. The itinerary we chose was one of the best we saw during our investigation. We spent the first seven days at sea and then we stopped in the Azores and Madeira which are part of Portugal. After that we went on to Spain where we were in a different port each day; Malaga, Cadiz, Cartegena, Mallorca and ending in Barcelona. It was an interesting way to get to Europe - changing the clock ahead every so often so that when we docked we were in the correct local time zone.
We had seven glorious days at sea. Some people asked me before I left what I would do for seven days at sea. It wasn’t hard to occupy our time. We spent our time going to the gym, eating, reading by the pool and on our balcony, listening to bands, going to various sessions and activities on board, water slides, playing ping pong, hanging by the pool or on deck looking at the Ocean. In the evenings we picked a particular entertainment arena to go to, hit the casino or watch many of the numerous evening activities going on including game shows, bands, live stage shows, etc. I even attended a scotch tasting event which was a lot of fun.
If you aren’t having fun on board the ship it’s your own fault. There are so many things to do that each day there was something we missed because we were doing something else.
The Norwegian Epic - first impressions. The ship feels a lot more disjoint than the Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas. Traffic doesn’t flow well and there are many areas that get clogged. As an example, on the 5th floor you can’t walk from Bow to Stern without going to a different floor and the aft elevators don’t’ even go go the 5th floor so you have to go to a floor above or below and then walk the stairs up or down to get there. Overall the design feels a bit clunky to me. There is no separate shower/bathroom/sink in the staterooms rather they are part of the stateroom. Some of the places to store your things are very narrow and awkward. We made things work but had to get creative to keep it all in place.
And last but not least, a cruise of this type would allow us to make an "A to B" comparison of a mega-ship like the Oasis of the Seas versus a somewhat smaller cruise ship like the Norwegian Epic. And it would also allow us to compare Norwegian Cruise Lines Cruise Line to the Royal Caribbean Cruise Line as regards how each takes care of their passengers.
If you have never been onboard the Norwegian Epic or you just want to know more about where the ship currently travels to or perhaps learn more about that class of ship, or you are looking for items for your next cruise, here are some items to consider;
Lets start with a comparison of the Norwegian (NCL) Epic's dimensions & statistics to the Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines (RCL) Oasis of the Seas. This is interesting because these ships are considered to be "mega-ships" and are similar in size and capacity - and - because our most recent cruise was recently on the Oasis of the Seas:
- Class and type:
- Epic-class cruise ship
- 155,873 gross tons (GT)
- 329.45 meters (1,081 feet)
- 40.64 meters(133 feet)
- 61 meters (200 feet)
- 8.7 meters (29 feet)
- 21.6 meters (71 feet)
- Installed Power:
- 3 × MaK 16M43 (3 × 15,200 kW , 3 × MaK 12M43 (3 × 11,400 kW)
- Diesel-electric; two shafts (2 × 24 MW), Wärtsilä fixed-pitch propellers & Four Wärtsilä bow thrusters and two stern thrusters
- 22 knots (41 km/h; 25 mph)
- Passenger Capacity:
- 4,100 (double occupancy)
Royal Caribbean Oasis of the Seas
- Class and type:
- Oasis-class cruise ship
- 225,282 GT
- 361.6 m (1,186.5 ft) overall
- 47 m (154 ft) waterline
- 72 m (236 ft) above water line
- 9.322 m (30.6 ft)
- 22.55 m (74 ft)
- 16 passenger decks
- Installed power:
- 3 × 13,860 kW (18,590 hp) Wärtsilä 12V46D, 3 × 18,480 kW (24,780 hp) Wärtsilä 16V46D
- 3 × 20 MW (27,000 hp) ABB Azipod, all azimuthing, 4 × 5.5 MW (7,400 hp) Wärtsilä CT3500 bow thrusters
- 22.6 knots (41.9 km/h; 26.0 mph)
- Passenger Capacity:
- 5,400 passengers at double occupancy, 6,296 maximum
Crossing the Atlantic Tips
- Don’t stress about the weather. The captain does a good job keeping people informed and they are watching the weather to make sure they don’t need to reroute.
- Relax - try to relax as soon as you can. It can be hard to de-stress. It’s interesting to see the difference in the people between day one and day 5. By day 5 everyone knows the drill. People have settled into a routine. They are nice and more laid back about the daily activities.
- Don’t forget to look at the Ocean. It’s out there. In all kinds of weather take in the sea.
- Stay hydrated - don’t forget to keep drinking water and other drinks to stay hydrated.
- If you bring your own wine you will have to pay a $15 corkage fee per bottle - However you can take the wine with you to a restaurant and they will poor it for you, etc.
- Booking through our United Mileage plus account gave us many free perks. Basically we had triple the number of perks due to a promotion that was going on.
- Free packages - Based on our United Mileage plus booking and promotions that we going on we had to pick many free packages. We picked 2 internet packages and three $50 off shore excursion packages but in the end we realized that this wasn’t a good choice because the shore excursions booked before we could book them and they seemed to be extremely overpriced and it would have cost us more to take them than not. We only ended up using one of the shore excursion promotions which was less than perfect. We could have received a Spa package or even more internet would have been nice or one of the food or drink packages. In any case, if you get free packages this is something to be aware of.
- Specialty restaurants are worth it especially for a long cruise. The food and service are very good.
- Sun Deck - there is a sun deck on deck 18 that we didn’t discover until Day 5! You get to it via the outside starboard elevator on deck 15. There are lounge chairs on the side and at the bow of the ship. I wish we’d had found it sooner. It seems that maybe everyone doesn’t know about it. It’s a great place for those seeking a quieter place to hang out and relax.
Tour around the Ship
In no particular order, lets take a look around the ship and some of the many areas that we frequented:
Ship's Sporting & Fitness Areas
These images above should give you a good idea of the wide range of sporting activities available onboard. Note that the basketball court is enclosed to preclude losing balls over the side!
The Fitness Area was quite large, very well equipped and very popular. If you were serious about working out, you had to arrive early in the morning to get your favorite cardio machine!
Ship's Adult Area
The entire area of the stern of the ship is designated an "Adult Area" with a large flat panel screen, hot tub, bar and lounge area. Comfortable and usually less crowded, and definitely less windy than other areas of the ship.
Bars, Entertainment, Garden Cafe & Views
Although there is a "jogging track" on deck 5, it is restricted to one side of the ship. Deck 16 provides you with a way to walk around the ship from side to side. Note the "band stand" picture, there were various bands that would play each day, several were quite good and got the crowd going.
The shows we attended were top quality entertainment, excellent dancers & musicians and extremely well performed. These two shows drew large crowds at each showing, so having reservations was a drop-dead necessity or you would need to get into the stand-by line very early.
I have to admit that I have never seen a bowling alley on any other cruise ships we've been on. A quick Google search reveals that there are not many ships offering bowling alleys!
The casino is laid out in the center of deck 6 with various restaurants & venues on both sides of the ship. A considerable number of slot machines, poker, black-jack and roulette are located here.
We are not what you could consider as "formal diners", and we do not ever bring formal clothing on a cruise! However, since we had booked this trip through United Airlines Vacations we took a "dining package" that included 4 evening meals at various restaurants. Here is a quick overview of those that we selected;
Moderno Churrascario: This is the ship's "Brazilian steakhouse" and their advertisements & descriptions talk about the great salad bar and we can confirm that is indeed impressive with a wide range of salad fixings, shrimp, cheeses, etc. Once we had completed the "salad phase" the waiters continously brought around racks & skewers of various meats and chicken - all of which was very good. To be honest, you definitely have to go here in a "very hungry" frame of mind or you will not enjoy it as much.
Teppanyaki Restaurant: This is the ship's version of a "Benihana" style restaurant and so there is quite a bit of entertainment performed by the chef, ie; throwing food into his oversized chef's hat, slicing some of that food as it falls to the grill, creating an onion volcano and preparing other food items on the large grill in an entertaining manner. Food was good, but due to the proximity of the next grilling area, we had already had a good preview of an even better chef - so we knew what was coming.
Le Bistro Restaurant: Norwegian advertising bills this restaurant as "an art nouveau restaurant reflecting all things French" and we found it to be very good. Typical European smaller portions with amazing desserts! You can view their menu here and note that all Norwegian Ships offer the exact same menu in each of their Le Bistro Restaurants. Good wine selections!
La Cuchina Restaurant: This is the Italian restaurant onboard Norwegian Epic. It is tucked away in the front of the ship under the Garden Café. To access the restaurant you need to walk through the Garden Café on deck 15 and take the stairs, at the front of the buffet restaurant, to deck 14.
Good selection of pasta and seafood dishes, nice wine list and the views from the bow facing large windows was excellent. We enjoyed the food, service staff were prompt, efficient and attentive.
Garden Cafe Dining
Buffet Food: Pretty decent - breakfast is a little better than Royal Caribbean. Omelets made to order every day. Fruit, lunch meats, sausages, hard boiled eggs, scrambled eggs, french toast, breads, bacon… the quality seems better than Royal Caribean to us. They do a better job of “policing” people and making sure they don’t touch anything….this is for cleanliness and making sure people don’t get sick on board. At Royal Caribbean they leave the food out on the serving stations and aren’t watching what people do. We saw a woman reach her bare hands into a nuts tray in the buffet one day. We were appalled but people will do that without anyone to keep an eye on them. On Norwegian, everything is attached to a manned station and they keep a close eye on making sure people are requesting food from the servers and using grabbers, etc.
Crepes made to order: The food stations were all manned stations, workers watch and make sure that people aren’t touching food, etc. They also put out a good amount of food and restock it as it dwindles rather than putting out mountains of food and not knowing when to restock (on Royal Caribean the buffet stations are in the middle and although they are stocked often we saw people sticking their hands in food which is probably why there was an outbreak of a stomach illness on one of the cruises right after the one we took).
Dinner Cuisine: They rotated the menu for dinner each evening to include various types of cuisine, ie; Asian, Italian, BBQ, etc. Everything we sampled was quite good, and the salad bar was always well stocked with both salad "fixings" and pre-made salads like coleslaw, potatoe salad, etc.
Crowd: Yes, it can get crowded here but you eventually get used to the rhythm of how passengers dine, and you make time adjustments to avoid the "rush hour". Many passengers are cruising because of the food, so you have to be prepared for people cutting the line or jumping in front of you.
Ports of Call
- Ponta Delgada Portugal: 3,198 miles from Port Canaveral. It is located on São Miguel Island, the largest and most populous in the archipelago. 137,856 (2012) island population and 62.1 kilometers in length by 15.8 kilometers in width. Click here to view our Ponta Delgada page.
- Funchal Madeira Portugal: 599 miles from Ponta Delgada. Population of 267,785. The island is 35 miles long and 13 miles wide and has 99 miles of coastline, but the shore is all rock and cliffs. It's a mountainous island; the highest peak is 1862 meters/6,100 feet high. Madeira is all mountains, no beaches. Click here to view our Funchal Madeira page.
- Cadiz & Seville Spain: 659 miles from Madeira. It is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in Western Europe, with archaeological remains dating to 3100 years and was founded by the Phoenicians. Click here to view our Cadiz/Seville page.
- Malaga Spain: 141.5 miles from Cadiz. With a population of 571,026 in 2018, it is the second-most populous city of Andalusia and the sixth-largest in Spain. The southernmost large city in Europe, it lies on the Costa del Sol (Coast of the Sun) of the Mediterranean. Click here to view our Malaga page.
- Cartagena Spain: 199 miles from Malaga. With a population of 213,943 inhabitants, being the Region’s second-largest municipality and Spain’s sixth-largest non-Province-capital city. Click here to view our Cartagena page.
- Palma de Mallorca Spain: 334 miles from Cartagena. The capital and largest city of the autonomous community of the Balearic Islands in Spain. Population of 409,661. Click here to view our Mallorca page.
- Barcelona Spain: 153 miles from Palma. It is the capital and largest city of the autonomous community of Catalonia, as well as the second most populous municipality of Spain. With a population of 1.6 million within city limits. Click here to view our Barcelona page.
- Total at sea Distance: 5,283.5 miles
Other Ship Observations/Remarks
- Breakfast: For breakfast they have a wealth of stations and choices. There were a multitude of stations making cook to order omelets and there are many sides. Bacon, sausage, biscuits, fruits, fried tomatoes, salmon, meats, cheese, oatmeal and all the fixings. I don’t think I can name something that was missing from the morning buffet.
- Asian Restaurant - complimentary: We ate at the Chinese restaurant the first night. If you don’t select the speciality meals then the dinner is complimentary. It was average but the setting was nice and the ambiance was good.
- Drinks: After boarding the ship and dumping our stuff in our cabin, we needed a drink to relax. We ordered a banana daiquiri and a shot of Jack Daniels and it was $37. That was a surprise so we didn't do that too often! You can bring as many bottles of wine as you want on board but there is a $15 per bottle corkage fee for each bottle. We brought four bottles, and made sure that they we excellent bottles of wine. ;-). There are wine stations in the cafe buffet and you can swipe your room key if you want some wine with dinner or lunch.
- Day one - Out at sea: A calm day on the water and feeling relaxed. We got up and worked out and had a nice breakfast. We didn’t sleep the best as the ship makes noise and it was warm in the room. I’m thinking it was just the first night sleep issues in any new place. We attempted to go to the Azores overview presentation but didn’t think it would be crowded and only went 15 minutes early. The place was packed! I’m thinking there will be other opportunities to attend.
- Entertainment: "Burn the Floor" outstanding dance and music show. Magician - funny magician with audience participation. House rock band was entertaining to listen/watch on the pool deck. Magician - more funny than magic but some good tricks. Epic Beatles - Beatles tribute band was just okay. It seemed their drummer might have been a stand-in as the rest of the band was good but he was struggling with the songs.
Suggestions for Norwegian Cruise Lines
- Their App never worked on my phone even though I downloaded the newest version. It would have been handy to view our schedule on the app during the day.
- The perks that we received from a partner that we booked with didn’t show up on our account when we viewed it which made it confusing to know whether the perks were acknowledged to avoid us having to go to the service desk to ask. For example, we had two internet packages as perks and we did not know how to redeem the 2nd package. We also had per port excursion perks which didn’t show up on the account and we found out after visiting guest services that the perk would only be applied after we took the excursion. If these things showed up in the account overview we would not have had to wait in line at the service desks.
- TV/Movies - The selection of TV channels for a 15 day cruise is lacking. The same movies were played day after day and same exact TV shows and there was only one TV channel and one movie channel. Perhaps allowing people to rent movies on demand would be nice as an option for an evening in the cabin.
Cruise Final Thoughts
- We really enjoyed both our time at sea and our time in ports. The Norwegian Epic grew on us during the time on the ship. At first, we couldn’t help but compare it to the Oasis of the Seas since we had just been on that a few months ago and the design is not nearly as elegant. However, it has a lot of plusses. It’s easier to find people. It wasn’t hard for us to find each other as there weren’t as many spaces to hang out - don’t get me wrong there are a lot of spaces to hang out but it was pretty easy to check and find people you are cruising with. There seemed to be more of a sense of community on the ship and a positive vibe. We spoke to many people and a lot of people were there having a good time, letting their hair down a bit dancing on the pool deck and in the various venues, listening to bands, and singing karaoke. We got used to the disjoint nature of some of the logistics after a few days.
- The last few days of the trip we came down with colds. Terry’s cold affected him much more than mine did to me. His went from congestion in his head down to his chest and he spent the last few days on the ship and in Barcelona coughing - which was a bummer. This is something that had not happened to us before on cruises and it freaked us out. We were very diligent with the “Washie washie” each day all day long but it didn’t prevent catching a cold when it started permeating the ship.
- We met many serial cruisers on board - people who had cruised more than 60 times! Some people were actually staying on board after we got off for the next cruise. A significant number of people as a matter of fact. We were surprised, although, it makes some sense. You are already there so why not see more places. To be honest… at the end of the 15 days and the days in Barcelona - we were tired of touring and eating. Taking a trip like this is wonderful but we both like to get back to “normal” eating and working out habits. Taking some time in between trips makes each trip more special.
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