Cruise Insights Part II

Two weeks ago, I finally made it for a seven-day cruise out of Miami. Deal, or no deal, between the airfare, cruise cost, on-board charges, and excursion costs, it’s a significant financial decision for most people, and something that first and second-timers should only do with the help of a qualified travel agent.

Here are some of the good, the bad, and the ugly of the Norwegian Epic. But remember that you’re only getting an opinion. In the interest of full disclosure, Norwegian did know I would be doing two radio stories, and my brother and I spent the money to upgrade to a two-story private section of the ship called The Haven. We had a two bedroom balcony suite with access to a butler, concierge, a Haven guests only restaurant, and pre-seating to two of the shows.

The Good:

The Epic is a brand new ship and there’s almost no chance any passenger will ever be bored with a wide variety of Caribbean ports of call, and a total of around a hundred diverse activities on the ship. The staff from more than 70 countries was friendly, totally attentive, incredibly professional, and more than patient; sometimes with passengers who wouldn’t treat their dog the way they treated some of the 1,700 staff.

Norwegian has a ‘cruise reward’ program, selling you a $250 cruise deposit that needs to be used within four years. You’re essentially buying a Norwegian gift card. What makes it a great deal is that it comes with an instant $100 credit on your current cruise. That’s a 40% discount and well worth buying. And you’re not actually locked in to another Norwegian cruise as it’s fully transferable.

On the Epic, as well as their newer Breakaway and the yet to be launched (February 2014) Getaway, Norwegian has added a singles-only Studio section. On the Epic, it’s an inside two-story row of singles cabins. The private area has a common foyer, living room, and lounge and is only accessible to Studio passengers. Two passengers I chatted with loved the ability to afford a cruise without paying double the rate. (Cabins on every cruise line are always sold on a two-person occupancy basis.) The rooms are tiny but well laid out and well lit with the same amenities as other cabins – just smaller.

The Bad:

You’re not alone on your cruise. With more than 4,000 passengers, be prepared for a lot of crowds, crowded areas, and line ups. You’ll be lining up often – and almost everywhere from getting on one of the eight elevators to restaurants and shows. Because of the size of the ship versus the size of the main showroom, you’ll also need to plan way in advance what show you want to see and require a reservation.

The check-in process runs very smoothly and moves a ton of people through the cruise line’s registration and security screening with incredible efficiency. Your first clue that you’re going to have a week of lineups, are two massive holding areas where you and 4,100 others are waiting before boarding the ship.

The Ugly:

Whether it’s only on the Epic, Norwegian wide now, or the entire cruise industry, the food availability, quality, variety of selection, and no-charge restaurant hours have been measurably reduced. Food costs (in addition to fuel and wages) are one of the biggest expenses and it’s not something they can surcharge you for. You’ll never have a problem finding a bar or bar staff since you’ll be paying. However, when a ship can reduce the hours of the buffet, the variety of food, and significantly reduce the fruit and entree selections, it’ big savings for the ship. It’s something that’s very evident if you’ve cruised on another Norwegian ship and have a comparison reference point. It wouldn’t be obvious for first-time passengers.

On one day, the massive Garden Café which serves more than 14,000 meals daily, according to Assistant Manager Desmond, had four stations closed, and five serving hot dogs, burgers, and fries. If you spent the money flying to Miami and the cost of the cruise in order to get really good burgers and fries you’ll be very satisfied.

Would I go on another cruise? Are you kidding? Would next week be too soon? Would it be the Norwegian Epic again? No thanks. Bigger isn’t always better, something even a few staff members admitted to. On day two, my brother commented that it really wasn’t freestyle anymore.  But it’s the trend in the cruise industry and the norm for all new ships. Find yourself a “small” ship of 2,500 or so passengers and you’ll probably be a lot happier. In the words of the old Captain on Hill Street Blues: Be careful out there!

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