The Norwegian Epic cruise ship by NCL is a unique vessel across the entire cruise world, not just Norwegian Cruise Line. It’s literally one of a kind.
About The Norwegian Epic
When you ask someone who’s been on the Epic, they are vocal about whether they love it or hate it, for several reasons. That’s why we’re doing this Norwegian Epic review – based on our five (!) voyages.
The NCL Epic is special to me personally because it represents a bunch of “firsts”. For example, it was my first Norwegian cruise, it was my first experience with a “mega ship”, it was my first time getting invited to meet the captain and first officer along with a private tour of the bridge and it was my first time taking an inaugural cruise and experiencing the excitement and vibe of what a new cruise ship launch has to offer. It was also the ship where I had my first PRIVATE behind-the-scenes tour of the entire ship. Quite fascinating!
That said, the EPIC is probably my least favorite cruise ship. Ironically, it’s also the ship I’ve cruised on the most. Why so many times? Primarily because the ship has been in locations around the world at the same time I have and always seems to be going somewhere I want or need to be. So when I’ve wanted a quick getaway, the EPIC always seems to be available and it’s usually quite affordable for a last-minute vacation. (I’ve also used the Epic for Transatlantic crossings to get back to America when traveling overseas).
An overview of the Norwegian Epic
The Epic, despite being a bit odd (more on that later), is a great cruise experience for first-time cruisers as well as experienced cruisers.
The Epic is a one-off ship that was built with sister ships planned but they never materialized because of shipyard disputes, lukewarm customer interest, and notably different design concepts that didn’t resonate with passengers.
The vibe of the Epic is more like that of a nice Las Vegas hotel than it is a cruise ship. When entering the ship for the first time, it doesn’t feel like you’ve boarded a gigantic cruise ship, but the lobby of something along the lines of a popular Vegas strip hotel surrounded by restaurants, entertainment venues, a large casino, and certainly no shortage of bars. With the ship being more of an inward design, wandering around, you don’t experience views out to the ocean as frequently as you would on a smaller vessel, again making it feel more like a hotel than a ship.
As one of the largest cruise ships in the world by size and capacity, it still feels intimate and not overrun (normally). However some venues can get quite full and a bit too busy when the ship is at or near capacity.
Even though the Epic cruise ship was launched in 2010, you wouldn’t know it based on the incredible maintenance of the common areas. The cabins are well-used but very well-maintained.
The cabins on the Norwegian Epic are where most passengers have a strong opinion. The layout is unusual by cruise ship standards with a split bathroom (the toilet is separate from the shower) and where the sink is in the room. With only a curtain divider, people often feel that privacy is lacking. The design is very “European” by nature, which is why it’s not well received by the customer base in America. While the design of the bathroom is polarizing when it comes to opinions, the overall room design is quite good, albeit funky with rounded elements throughout. The rooms are still in style, even 10+ years after the launch of NCL Epic.
For anyone who’s cruised in the past, the vast amount of storage in the cabins on the Epic will be a welcomed surprise. Storage is literally EVERYWHERE. Behind the seatbacks, under the bed, in the large closets as well as plenty of other cubbies for storing used laundry and small luggage items.
A quick tip on balcony cabin selection on the Epic. Look at the configuration and select a cabin with the bed closer to the balcony door. Having the bed immediately upon entering the room makes it feel smaller, so the configuration with the bed closer to the balcony window just feels more spacious, even though they’re the same size.
Is the Norwegian Epic large balcony room worth the extra cost?
In short, no. See our 360-degree photos of the large balcony cabins on the Epic. Because of the ship layout and strange angles of the exterior, you will end up (usually) with a balcony that may be 50% larger but not as enjoyable. For one, you end up looking into the neighbor’s balcony/cabin when stepping out to the railing. So the reality is there is no benefit to the larger balcony staterooms on the Epic.
Interior staterooms are cozy yet well-appointed. If you’re a cruiser that is usually not inclined to book an interior stateroom, the Epic might change your mind about that in the future, as they are equally comfortable, unlike some other cruise lines where the interior cabins almost seem like an afterthought and downgrade.
Solo passengers/cruisers have never been a priority on most cruise ships. Expensive solo and single supplements are often normal on cruises, however, Norweigian changed that with their solo insider cabins of which more than 100 were introduced on the Epic. The choice to cater to passengers who traveled alone or with friends not wanting to share a cabin was a huge hit for NCL. They’ve become so popular that all future ships built for Norwegian Cruise Line have included solo cabins.
The cabins to support solo cruisers will not disappoint! Not only are the cabins well thought out for only 100 square feet, but they’re also well-designed and comfortable for single passengers with no corners cut on the design.
In addition to the solo cabins, NCL has gone through extra effort to support passengers traveling alone with designated areas for solo cruisers to meet and mingle.
The Haven Staterooms on The Epic
The Haven is more than just a room, it’s an experience on board Norwegian ships. The Haven never disappoints with its beautiful modern-designed suites. In 2020, the NCL Epic had some refurbishment and refit work done mainly to accommodate an upgraded Haven area. But, not all Haven suites are the same. On a recent Epic voyage with friends who bid, and won an upgrade to the Haven. Their stateroom, while beautiful, was an aft cabin and not connected to the main Haven area on the ship. Beyond the unique design elements and slightly more spacious cabin (with a proper bathroom layout), the Haven offered a Butler and Concierge that they rarely used. The consensus regarding the Haven on Norwegian is the value exists primarily in the private dining, lounge, and bar areas as well as other exclusive-use outdoor spaces. Most people who I know that have booked in the Haven suites tell me that they’d probably not pay full price for the experience but rather bid for an upgrade when possible.
Norwegian Haven Gallery – NCL Epic
Other available cabins
The Epic has a huge variety of cabins to choose from including Spa suites, Club Balcony Suites, family Balconies, etc.
The Spa Staterooms on the Epic come in three varieties including the Haven Spa Suite, Spa Balcony Suite, and Spa Balcony. The Spa Balcony and Club Balcony have nearly identical floor plans as the regular balcony cabins but have a more “serene” decor and upgraded bathroom accessories. Most importantly, any stateroom marketed as a “Spa” room has unlimited access to the Thermal Spa Suites (Mandara Spa) included in the cruise fare. (Available on Norwegian Escape, Breakaway Class ships, Norwegian Bliss, and Norwegian Epic) You can see more about the Spa Staterooms on NCLs website.
A Club Balcony (Formerly Mini-Suite) is essentially just the balcony stateroom with a few extra perks. Some of the perks of a Club Balcony Room include a free bottle of sparkling wine, early access to booking reservations, treats in-room such as chocolate-covered strawberries, upgraded linens, coffee and tea setup, priority seating in restaurants and some include a full-size bathtub rather than the typical shower. Most passengers I’ve met who have upgraded to a Club Balcony don’t really see the value, especially if booked at the full rate.
The Family staterooms are simply rooms that are closer to activities for children and many are connected rooms.
Dining Options & Restaurants On the Epic
The Epic has no shortage of restaurants and places to eat!
O’Sheehan’s Bar & Grill
Casual pub-style restaurant/bar open late serving everything from fish and chips, burgers, and chicken wings to healthier options like salads and soups.
The ship buffet is open for all meals. Self-service with theme nights and rotating lunch. menus.
Shanghai’s Chinese Restaurant
A very good Chinese restaurant with classic Chinese dishes and soups.
Shanghai’s Noodle Bar
Attached to the Chinese restaurant, this is a bar serving traditional dumplings and dim sum.
Taste & Manhattan Room
The main dining restaurants on the Epic with a menu that changes regularly as well as a daily / nightly fixed menu for those who don’t appreciate change.
The Haven Restaurant
For exclusive use by the Haven Guests. Basically, a restaurant where anything is possible.
A bottomless meat event with a full buffet and salad bar full of appetizers, bread, and salad options. See the Moderno Menu
Modern Italian food. Not just your spaghetti and meatballs! Amazing rustic & high-end Italian. See the La Cucina Menu
As the name states, it’s a full steakhouse at sea. Every cut of meat is available along with a plethora of appetizers and salads. See the Cagney’s Menu
The loved NCL French restaurant with classics like steak tartar and French onion soup. See the Le Bistro Menu
Amazing show cooking in small groups that rivals any land-based Teppanyaki. Watch the chef prepare everything on a large hot plate in front of you. See the Teppanyaki Menu
Traditional (and affordable) sushi bar. Quick tip : Don’t use a dining credit from your Free at Sea on Wasabi. It’s inexpensive and you’re better off dining a la carte.
Bars & Lounges on the NCL Epic
There’s no shortage of watering holes on the Epic. In fact, the huge presence of bars and lounges is so prominent that it again makes the ship feel more like a Las Vegas hotel than a massive cruise ship. Here’s what you can expect to find on the ship:
Maltings Whisky Bar
While Maltings is supposed to be a “whisky” bar, it is actually a full bar with just about every spirit, beer, and wine served that is available on the Epic. The only thing the guys and girls don’t really like to do at Maltings is make Martinis. For this, they’ll point you over to the Martini bar just a few steps away.
The Martini Bar has a great vibe with lounge chairs placed well for the random live music that plays in the space. It also has a decent-sized bar to sit at where the bartenders will make you a martini of choice. I find that the skill level of the bartenders is lacking with good martinis, unfortunately.
Just like a typical Las Vegas bar, there are video gambling machines embedded in the bar and you can get just about anything you want. This bar tends to get busy with walk-up traffic from the restaurants in the evening as it’s faster for diners to get a drink sometimes.
This used to be our favorite bar on the ship. Dead center of the atrium and great for people watching. Unfortunately, NCL made the choice to chop off a significant portion of the bar and make it a Starbucks. A HUGE mistake in my opinion. Where the Atrium Bar used to be a gathering point for social activity and pre-dinner meetups, it’s now just an afterthought and feels like it should be in the lobby of a cheap hotel. I can’t say that I’ve stopped even once for a drink there since this change happened.
The bar at O’Sheehan’s
A huge bar made to replicate an Irish Pub. It’s great for just about everything you could want. The bartenders that work at O’Sheehan’s hustle and will make you just about anything you can imagine. When it’s slower during the day, and you’re up for experimenting, they’ll usually make you something off the menu for you to try.
A great spot on the Epic is the adults-only Spice H2O at the rear of the ship. With a small pool and stadium seating, it’s a nice place to get away from everyone and relax. At night the bar changes to more of a venue for music and sometimes movies on a big screen. Just like Bliss, the staff sometimes doesn’t enforce the age restriction, a disappointment. The bar is a great place to sit outside and enjoy the good weather and have any number of daily frozen specials.
Not much to say about the pool bar, other than it’s convenient when you’re at the pool or in the Garden Cafe for a quick bite. I don’t find the staff here to be terribly engaging or the drinks to be anything special.
Bliss is the “Ultra Lounge” or nightclub brand on Norwegian Ships. The Bliss Lounge on the Epic is quite impressive given it’s essentially a well-done night club at sea. When you’re there, you wouldn’t know that you’re on a cruise ship. The lounge is what you’d expect in the evenings and is adult-only starting around 9 pm. Other than serving the purpose of a bar, club, or lounge, Bliss is also used during the day for private events and gatherings.
My only complaint with Bliss on the Epic is that the age restriction hasn’t been enforced in the past 2 voyages I’ve had. While other ships seem to do a better job at keeping the 18+ rule, staff on the Epic didn’t.
Most people don’t realize that there are only a handful of Ice Bars in the entire world. It’s said that there are less than 20 ice bars in existence, and one of them is on the Epic!
Admittedly, this is a strange concept and I can’t quite figure out the reason behind it but it’s fun to try it once, just to say you did. The cost is about $20 per person which includes two branded drinks (Now it’s Skyy, it was Svedka). The entry is time limited to 45 minutes and you’re provided with a parka to wear in the sub-freezing room. It’s fun and makes for a great photo opportunity with the funky lighting and ice sculptures.
Spa by Mandara
One of my favorite spaces on the Epic is the Mandara Spa and Thermal Suite. When it was introduced, the spa was the largest at sea! While it’s no longer the biggest or the most fabulous, it’s still an incredible retreat. Modeled after traditional Turkish Baths, it features hot tubs and a relatively large therapy pool with various jets for aqua therapy. The Thermal Suites also feature everything you’d expect to see in a high-end spa including a steam room, sauna, heated chaise loungers, and rain showers. The changing rooms have lockers and are gender specific with gender-specific steam rooms and saunas, but the rest of the spa is mixed-gender.
The cost of using the spa varies. It used to be when you had a service / massage, a day pass was included. On a recent trip, when I inquired about this, I was told that is no longer the case. (Confirmed again on a December 2022 Transatlantic). It also used to be typical if the ship was not busy, that a day pass could be purchased. Again, it doesn’t seem to be the case now, or may depend on who you speak with at the spa (Updated, the day pass was recently sold for $79)
The current pricing to use the Mandara Thermal Suite is about $300 for a week (On a 9-day transatlantic crossing, it was $319 including all fees). However, the price can vary a bit if you purchase after you’re on board. If the “spa pass” really is of interest, check online regularly after you book, as they sometimes run promotions. On a recent 7 days NCL Dawn cruise, I was able to get the full week for only $139. That promotion only lasted a few days and there was no notice of the discount. It was just visible when selecting the spa package as an add-on.
Don’t forget, if you’re really a spa person and expect to make heavy use of the spa, sometimes the Spa Staterooms are less expensive than a balcony cabin plus buying a pass, so definitely compare when booking.
There is a downside to the Thermal Suite on the Epic, however. On Transatlantic cruises, they tend to oversell the pass. It’s stated that the pass is only sold to a limited number of passengers, but I’ve experienced otherwise, unfortunately.
On a Transatlantic cruise in 2017 on the NCL Epic, the Thermal Suites were almost unusable due to capacity. It certainly wasn’t relaxing. To add to the oversold spa pass, a group of passengers had discovered how to “sneak in” to the spa since it was not well monitored. Mid-cruise, I finally decided it was a real problem and did what I rarely do, complain. It took the entire second part of the cruise to connect with the elusive spa manager and eventually get a full refund, even though they were extremely unwilling (initially) to a refund for the pass. This probably won’t prevent me from buying the pass again for another Epic Transatlantic, but I’ll definitely be watching for a discount online. Note: In 2022 for the same cruise, it seemed to have been managed better and was more enjoyable to use.
Things To Do on the Epic
The Epic cruise ship has more than enough to keep passengers from getting restless during their vacation.
Pools, a waterslide, an aqua park, a rock climbing wall, and huge sun decks are among the many things to do on the Epic.
The ship was the first “Mega” ship for Norwegian Cruise Line and features the first generation of wild and crazy activities that have now become the norm on large ships. This includes the aqua park with huge water slides (three of them!) and a 200-foot-long tube ride into a funnel/bowl.
In addition to the outdoor activities, there’s an indoor bowling alley, Ice bar, video games, library, casino, theater, nightclub, shopping, and more.
Entertainment on board
The ship has a large theater that currently presents Priscilla Queen of the Desert (Musical) and Burn The Floor.
Priscilla Queen of the Desert the Musical is surprisingly good if you’re into musical theater. Having seen the original production in London’s West End, it’s nearly as good! Note it’s PG 13 due to some content.
Burn the Floor – A sort of variety show full of dancing featuring accomplished dancers from around the world.
Howl at the Moon – A dueling piano show.
The Cavern Club – Music, entertainment, and sometimes comedy
The Epic Casino
The casino on the Norwegian Epic is huge, absolutely huge compared to other cruise ships and lines. It’s NCL’s largest casino at sea and adds to the feeling of being in a Las Vegas hotel. While the size of the casino and how prominent it is maybe a turn-off for non-gamblers, it manages to co-exist with other spaces without feeling like it’s the sole purpose of the ship. It’s large and present but doesn’t ruin adjoining spaces with its size.
Coming Soon, NCL Epic Interactive Deckplans
Itinerary for the Epic
The Epic spends the summers in the Mediterranean departing from Barcelona and visiting some beautiful locations such as Corsica, Cannes, Palma, Naples, etc.
During the winter Epic spends time in the Caribbean and will be making San Juan its primary departure port in 2023.
Posh Beach Club
The 18+ space on deck 18 is a limited space sundeck (no pool) area that is available by purchasing access. It’s comfy, has a private bar, and is away from the crowds. It’s a good alternative for people who want private outdoor space that doesn’t have access to the Haven areas. Access is generally been sold as day passes or a week-long pass (for around $59) and needs to be purchased quickly when on board as they sell out. (It’s free for Haven guests)
What about Kids?
While we don’t have children or travel with other couples who do, we’ve met plenty of families that love the activities on board the Epic. The Entourage Club is a great gathering space for teens / tweens with video games, consoles, etc. There are also plenty of kid-friendly activities outside of the Entourage like the water slides and water park.
A few thoughts on the overall experience – Our Norwegian Epic Review
Generally, the service is quite good. There are a few areas of the ship where service could improve and is inconsistent with what you’d expect with NCL. Mainly this was found among some of the bartenders throughout the ship who looked like they were just overworked and tired. Based on a pandemic cruise early in 2022, the employee morale just wasn’t what I’ve experienced on other cruises, but with staff shortages and a challenging work environment, it’s not at all surprising.
The food quality is usually very good, a notable feature of NCL. Again, however, on a recent cruise, there were more misses than normal, especially in specialty dining. I believe this is temporary due to all of the supply chain issues. After a planned Transatlantic in December 2022 on the Epic, I’ll confirm if the dining has improved.
The value that the Epic provides on most itineraries is quite good. Considering that there is nothing “cheap” about this cruise ship, the prices are incredibly affordable. With cruises in a balcony cabin regularly being less than $800 per person for 7 days, the cost of a vacation with Norwegian on the Epic is unbeatable, especially when considering the “Free at Sea” promotion is usually included!
Tips – a few fun things to know
In passenger hallways, the carpet is made of swimming fish! Since the ship is so large, it’s easy to get lost or turned backward, so use the fish to guide you. They swim forward toward the front of the ship.
Additionally, each side of the ship and stairwells are color-coded. So take note of what color your side of the ship is and you’ll never end up wandering too far in the wrong direction.
Did you know? There was an entire FaceBook group dedicated to the Norwegian Epic? Check it out!
Do you have anything to add about the Epic?
Did we miss something? Do you want to add an idea? Just submit a comment below!
Some Frequently Asked Questions
If you have a question about the Epic, just comment below, and we’ll add it to this list!
When was the Norwegian Epic Built?
The NCL Epic was built in 2009 and set sail for the Caribbean in the summer of 2010.
How big is the Epic cruise ship?
The Epic is nearly 1100 feet long and 200 feet high with 19 decks and can hold over 4000 passengers (officially 4228 at double capacity). Crew capacity is 1724±. When it was launched, it was the 3rd largest cruise ship in the world. It’s still in the top 30 largest cruise ships.
When was the Epic refurbished?
The Epic was the first of Norwegians “Edge” refurbishment program and had some changes made in 2015. It was again drydocked in 2020 for enhancements to the Haven suites.
Are there laundry facilities on the NCL Epic?
There are no self-service laundry facilities, but Norwegian does offer a very reasonably priced laundry service.
Is there a 24 Hour restaurant on the Epic?
While not officially 24 Hours, O’Sheehan’s is open very late and usually stays open until the last customer is served.
What happened to the Norwegian Epic? Did the Epic Crash?
The Epic cruise ship had an unfortunate incident in San Juan, Puerto Rico where it collided with docks causing damage to the hull of the ship. The event happened in 2019 and there were no injuries but the damages were in the millions of dollars.
Is there a coffee maker in the Epic cabins?
In the Club Balcony staterooms, there are coffee and tea setups and in the Haven you can request to have a machine.
What is a Club Balcony Stateroom
Nearly identical to the standard balcony cabin with amenities that include the option to pre-book onboard entertainment and dining as early as 125 days prior to sail date, complimentary treats delivered to your stateroom (chocolates, etc), a complimentary bottle of sparkling wine, and a choice of one valet laundry or pressing service.
Our overall opinion of the Norwegian Epic:
Norwegian Epic Cruise Ship
The NCL Epic is definitely a one of a kind, unique ship across the entire cruise industry. We love it because it feels like a nice Vegas hotel with plenty to do and great restaurants. It's the perfect cruise ship for a first time cruiser as well as the experienced cruise traveler. If it weren't for the unusual bathroom configurations in the cabins, this ship would be nearly perfect.
Product Brand: Norwegian Cruise Line
- So much to do
- Great food
- Resort Experience
- Can get busy
- Strange cabin layout
- Hit or Miss service