In December, 2012, my family celebrated my dad’s retirement and my parents’ wedding anniversary by cruising to the Eastern Caribbean with the Norwegian cruise line aboard the Epic ship. This is a review of the Norwegian cruise line in comparison to the Royal Caribbean cruise line (Liberty of the Seas ship) and the Princess cruise line (Caribbean Princess ship). See here for my original and detailed review of the Princess cruise line food. Also, see here for my review of Royal Caribbean in comparison to Princess.
I love traveling by cruise and I can’t wait for the opportunity to sail with the other major competitors, Celebrity and Holland America. Hopefully, my reviews will help you choose the company best suited to your interests and priorities.
Review of Norwegian Epic Cruise
Selection, Availability, and Quality of Food
One of my favourite things about cruising with Norwegian is their characteristic casual approach to dining. It is the only cruise line that I know of that does not have assigned dining slots or seating for the formal dining rooms. Also, they do not have an enforced formal night, either. This makes for more relaxed traveling because you don’t have to plan your daily activities around your dinner time. That also means that you don’t have to make room in your suitcase for extra shoes, accessories, dresses, or suits if you don’t want to. Do note that one of the Norwegian’s Epic dining rooms is much nicer and classier than the other, but it, obviously, fills up sooner. On the first night of the cruise, people that had to wait for a table in the nicer dining room received a complimentary glass of champagne. That was a nice touch. Free drinks or not, the nicer dining room is worth the wait, in my opinion. Most nights they have live music there, but never in the more casual dining room.
Although the Royal Caribbean dining rooms are the most grand, the best dining room food was served by Princess. Although I have heard many many poor reviews of Norwegian’s food, I found the dining room food on the Epic ship more than acceptable and on par with, if not better than, Royal Caribbean. In fact, the lobster tail served by Norwegian was much better than the ones I had on the other ships. Maybe the dishes served on Epic just happened to suit my tastes better? Or maybe the Epic ship’s dining is better than other Norwegian ships?
In terms of variety and quality at the buffet stations, Princess was, by far, the best. The buffet options on Norwegian’s Epic were better suited to my taste than those on Royal Caribbean’s Liberty of the Seas. This surprised me, because I had heard many negative reviews of Norwegian’s food. Once again, I wonder if maybe the food on the Epic ship is an exception to the Norwegian line? I’d also like to add that the chefs and cooks on the Norwegian Epic really know how to make good curries. I ate those more than anything else from the buffets.
Of the three cruise lines, Princess was the only one that offered afternoon tea.
On Norwegian’s Epic ship, there was an Irish pub that served food 24/7. My favourite thing on their menu: deep fried chicken wings! Now, they weren’t the best quality chicken wings I’ve ever had, but they certainly weren’t the worst. I lost count of the number of times I ate chicken wings during that week. It was amazing/disgusting 🙂 Note that Princess’s Caribbean Princess ship had incredible 24/7 buffet selections (but no chicken wings) where Royal Caribbean’s Liberty of the Seas did not have any 24/7 food vendors. Room service is available 24/7 on all of the ships.
On the Norwegian Epic, we tried two of the specialty restaurants, the Japanese Wasabi Sushi Bar and the Brazilian churrasco (Moderno). The sushi bar was out of the tuna that we wanted to order so we just had a few simple pieces of sushi. It was fine. Since I didn’t try any of their specialty rolls, I don’t think that I can fairly rate the venue. We tried everything on the menu at Moderno. Most of the bbq meats were overcooked, bland, or too tough. But the grilled pineapple was absolutely delicious. I couldn’t get enough of it. The staff was nice and surprised us by singing a romantic song for my parents when they discovered that we were there to celebrate their wedding anniversary.
Dining room wait staff were excellent on all three ships. However, my ratings for overall customer service enthusiastically place Princess in first place. Norwegian came in a distant second place and Royal Caribbean fared so poorly that it didn’t deserve to be placed on the same scale as the other two cruise lines (more details in my previous review here).
Rooms, Activities, and Entertainment
My sister and brother and I shared a 3 person room with a balcony. The rooms on the Norwegian Epic were the nicest, largest, cleanest, and most functional. A lot of thought and consideration went into the smallest details, such as the design and placement of storage. Our balcony was huge and felt very private. From what I could see, though, most balconies were not as nice as ours, so we got lucky in that regard.
I found that the decor on the Princess ship was more traditional and the decor on Royal Caribbean and Norwegian ships were a bit tacky. I would also like to note that in some areas of the Norwegian Epic ship, the ceilings felt quite low and less comfortable than the other ships I’ve been on.
In terms of facilities and activities, the Royal Caribbean ships tend to be larger and have more amenities, many more activities, and more clubs with better music. There is a lot more to do on the Royal Caribbean ships which make them a fun option for young adults or families. I’d like to point out that the Norwegian Epic did not have a “boardwalk” which, for us, was a hot spot for hanging out and entertainment on the other cruise lines.
In terms of shows and entertainment, Royal Caribbean had fantastic independent, big-time production shows, Norwegian had internationally acclaimed performances such as Blue Man Group and Second City, and Princess had the most number of movies playing on an outdoor movie screen, indoor movie theatre, and within the rooms on tv.
The Norwegian Epic really stood out to me in terms of their attention to subtle, but very functional, details. For example, Norwegian’s processes for making reservations to shows, entering and exiting crowded areas/events, going through baggage claim, and departing the ship on the last day were, by far, the most efficient. Inefficiency is a huge pet peeve of mine and there were plenty of moments on Royal Caribbean and Princess where I spotted room for improvement in this regard, but I had high praise for Norwegian. Also, looking at Norwegian’s daily itineraries, it was obvious that events had been assigned time slot(s) with careful consideration given to the on-shore schedules, popular dinner times, and general interest categories. Thanks to their thoughtful planning, I was able to enjoy all of my shore excursions, eat dinner when I returned to the boat, and still attend all of the types of activities that were of interest to me/people from my age group. When I was traveling with Princess and Royal Caribbean, I was constantly feeling frustrated or disappointed with their illogical itineraries. For example, it seemed like all of “my types” of fun activities were scheduled to take place at the exact same time, so I was either attending one session while missing out on all of the other interesting things or I was very bored because nothing being offered in that specific time slot was appealing to me. Also, on Princess and Royal Caribbean, movie or show start times always seemed to be during prime dinner time, so you either had to cut your day on shore short so that you could eat before the show, or you had to wait until after the show to have a very late dinner. Neither option was favorable and both caused disappointment or unnecessary stress on what was supposed to be a very relaxing and carefree vacation.
When comparing my experiences with Princess, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian, I would say that the Norwegian Epic provided the best overall cruise for me (see below for more details). However, I’m not able to declare a favourite cruise line, because each of the companies has its unique features and strengths. I’ve listed a brief summary of what I liked most about each one in hopes that it will help you choose a cruise line that’s best suited for your next trip.
If the most important factor for your enjoyment of a cruise is food or customer service, then I recommend that you consider Princess over Royal Caribbean or Norwegian. I’d also like to point out that in my parents’ experience, Holland America and Celebrity fare significantly better than Princess in regards to food and customer service, so be sure to look into those cruise lines as well.
If you don’t like the restriction of dining room assignments (i.e. if you have young children with you) or if you’d rather avoid the hassle of dressing up in formal attire, then consider Norwegian for their informal and flexible dining. Note that although the other cruise lines restrict you to a specific dinner slot in the dining room, they also offer freestyle dining in other areas of the ship should you want to have dinner at any other time.
If you are traveling with young/active adults or children, then Royal Caribbean has the best activities and programs for them. For example, some of their ships have water surfing, rock climbing, ice skating, zip lining, etc. Their newest ship, Quantum of the Seas, will set sail in 2014 and will have a sky diving simulator and bumper cars on board! This is not to say that the other cruise lines aren’t fun. For example, the Norwegian Epic had a bowling alley and several different water slides.
If you enjoy other or less active forms of entertainment, then Royal Caribbean and Norwegian are both good options. They offer fantastic shows and have different approaches to selecting their headliners. Royal Caribbean’s older ships have high quality shows that tend to be their own productions. In fact, many of the crew members that work on the ship during the day also sing, dance, and perform in the shows at night. Royal Caribbean’s newer ships are trending towards hired professionals for entertainment. For example, the newer attractions include ice skating or water shows. Instead of creating their own shows, the Norwegian Epic had an excellent line up of internationally known entertainers including the Blue Man Group, Second City Comedy Club, and Legends in Concert, etc.
Personally, it’s hard to choose one cruise line over the other, because I find there’s always a trade off. For example, I can’t wait to enjoy the best food and service with Holland America or Celebrity, but I suspect that I’ll find their ships to be much less lively than Royal Caribbean’s ships. Where I very much enjoyed the entertainment provided by Royal Caribbean, to this day I still complain about their customer service. In my opinion, the Norwegian Epic was the best overall cruise ship experience (so far). Although it did not score the highest (based on my personal ratings) in food, activities, or customer service, it had the best overall score (once again, based only on my personal opinion). The Norwegian Epic had the most comfortable rooms, the activities on the ship were second best, I had no complaints about the customer service, I had very few complaints about the food, the entertainment was excellent, and the daily itineraries/operations on this ship were very efficient and well-planned. I’m hoping to cruise with Celebrity in 2014, so keep your eyes open for the next cruise line/ship review. Happy and safe travels!