Ships I’ve sailed on: Epic, Sun, Escape
SUMMARY: NCL is known for its all inclusive drink package. You won’t find a better deal on any cruise line. Lots of activities above deck, like ropes courses, big water slides, rock climbing. Good food and service, but very pervasive smoke inside as the casino is not contained. Great for families.
We had one of the worst experiences on any cruise on the NCL Epic. It’s an oddly designed ship, and I’ve come to find out that the reason is that it was supposed to be used in Europe for Europeans. Americans consistently rate this ship below average. Much of this has to do with the way the bathrooms are designed. They have frosted glass, instead of being enclosed in a room with solid walls. The toilet is on one side and the shower on the other side of the hallway when you enter the room. There is a curtain that can be closed to separate the bathroom area from the beds, but it’s still weird. And if you’re on the toilet when your suite-mate opens the door, anyone walking by can see you in there. They tend to close all the bars during the day, so O’Sheehan’s on the lower deck is absolutely packed and can’t handle the load. There were a lot of activities above decks, but it was SO crowded!
We then took a short cruise on the Norwegian Sun, which is a small, older ship. It was really fun though. Well laid-out, good food, nice staff. We really enjoyed it. It was a great value for the money because the cruise was cheap.
Then we took the Escape on a seven day cruise and had a wonderful time. This is by FAR the best NCL ship we’ve been on. This ship is so well designed. We mainly liked the outdoor walkway that goes around the ship on deck 7 and 8. The restaurants have outdoor seating along that same walkway, and there are also several small bars and seating areas there. You can sit in the shade depending on what side of the ship the sun is on. They were rarely crowded even though the ship was completely full. We never felt overwhelmed by crowds on this ship.
One bar we found was quite interesting. It was on the outer walking deck, called the “Sustainability Bar.” They used leftover food from the dining room to concoct drinks that were so intriguing. The “Pineapple Surplus” was fabulous! It used turmeric honey and some other flavors that made it less sweet than if they’d used straight up simple syrup. The drinks changed daily, with some containing flavors I’d never had before. There was one made of red bell peppers which was one of the best drinks I’ve ever had. It was also nice to sit in the shade right next to the deck railing with a spectacular view. The music was very low and it was never crowded. So it was a peaceful place to hang out.
Overall Design and Impression
The overall decor of the ship is pretty mundane. There is nothing special except maybe the changing lights on the chandelier in the atrium. Otherwise, nothing stood out as being exceptional. The cabins were comfortable, but ordinary, there was no exceptional artwork or architecture, and all the furniture was functional, but plain.
A big negative for us is that the casino is spread over half the deck instead of being in a more confined area, which means you smell smoke everywhere on those two decks, because it’s open to the deck below. The French Bistro has seating outside the main door in the atrium and the smell of smoke was so bad, that people were complaining and asking to be moved inside the restaurant.
The shows looked amazing on this ship, but we sadly couldn’t get tickets since you have to get them the first day you’re onboard.
The food on the NCL Escape was surprisingly good! I was delighted to see so many options and all very tasty. Their pizza is the best of any of the cruise lines we’ve traveled on. Their thick french toast was not tough at all. Their salad bar was amazing! And they always had really good choices at their Asian station. Their desserts were hit and miss. The carrot cake in O’Sheehans was consistently good, but the desserts at the buffet were always a crap shoot.
O’Sheehan’s has a better design on the Escape, and if you go there off hours, there is no waiting for a table. Their food was excellent there (try the pretzel bites) so if you’re looking for a quick bite any time of the day or night, it’s your best option. The only downside to O’Sheehan’s is that it looks down to the deck below where all the trivia and activities are performed. So there is usually some loud person talking to a crowd, which gets pretty annoying after a while.
They have 3 dining rooms that you can choose from for anytime seating, the main dining room in the back, and Taste and Savour which are both mid-ship across the hallway from each other. The service was fast and the food was excellent. We went twice to dinner on this cruise. We’ve stopped going on other cruises because we found that the waiting wasn’t worth it. We usually just hit the buffet because it’s faster.
We were upgraded to a balcony which was a nice cabin. There wasn’t a whole lot of storage, but it was enough for us. Their beds are ridiculously hard, so if you need a softer bed, you might want to bring a topper with you. They did have a bathtub, but that made the shower a little hard to get in and out of. The TV was terrible. They had two channels with TV shows, and the on-demand movies were $10 each. We brought our laptop and HDMI set-up. In this case, we had to unplug their HDMI cable, because their system wouldn’t allow us to get to the input settings. There is an additional charge for room service, so we didn’t order any.
Private Island: Great Stirrup Cay
We had been on two previous NCL cruises and both times we were told that the weather was too rough to go to their private island. We were beginning to doubt they had one. Well, turns out they do, and it’s right next to Royal Caribbean’s Coco Cay. We were told that NCL is planning to build a dock which will make the weather irrelevant. We were thrilled that on the most recent cruise, we finally got to experience Great Stirrup Cay. It was actually really nice. They have a huge zipline course up in the air (you do have to buy tickets which are around $75). There are many places to eat and there are several beach areas.
We recommend walking all the way to the far end of the island because the beach was way less crowded. The snorkeling off the beach was pretty good. We saw stingrays and some nice fish. The food was BBQ style and was excellent. You can use your drink package on the island and there are quite a few bars scattered about. We noticed some lounge chairs with big canopies over them which seem to be first come, first served, so check those out when you get there. We were on the 4th tender and there were very few people on the island when we got there. We had plenty of time to do everything we wanted before we had to head back.
- Great outdoor spaces
- The waterfall Grotto/Cave in the adult area in the back
- Good Food, drinks and service
- O’Sheehan’s nice food option
- Variety of shows
- Sustainability Bar
- Breakfast buffet opens at 5:30am
- Gym was always open
- Nice private island
- Almost no vegetarian protein options
- Really hard beds
- Smoking everywhere (casino is open to 2 decks and contaminates everything)
- Facial recognition takes a long time to check people in and out
- Small elevators
- Not much outdoor seating near buffet
- Boring interior design