Just a few years ago, we were only dreaming of taking a cruise across the Atlantic (known as a “crossing” to those who’ve done them). Now, in the space of barely four months, we’ve accomplished two of them: westbound on Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 back in December, and now eastbound on Norwegian’s Epic.
We left Miami for Barcelona, Spain on April 19th, with only one stop planned at the island of Madeira (a possession of Portugal) after 7 full days at sea. After a few days we had to remind ourselves that it’s not fair to compare the Queen Mary 2 and the Epic. Cunard and Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL) have completely different philosophies and target completely different markets; of course the cruises are going to be completely different.
We’ll summarize those differences this way: the Queen Mary 2 crossing was a very British experience, and the Norwegian Epic was a very American experience. There is no denigration intended here in either regard, and we mean this only as a general description of the atmosphere of the two cruises.
The QM2 had a dress code, and Chuck was expected to wear a jacket every night except three: on those nights a formal dark jacket (tux) was expected. Dinner was at a specified time, and we had an assigned table (though we were free to go to the buffet if we preferred). Our waiter was the same every evening, and we had a sommelier assigned to us to make wine recommendations; they both knew our names on day 2. Entertainment included a classical guitarist, a harpist, a pianist, a 3-piece jazz ensemble, a big band with ballroom dancing every night, and afternoon lectures.
|The Norwegian Epic on the Atlantic|
The Norwegian Epic was purposefully anti-dress code: “You’re on vacation, wear flip-flops everywhere!” Nevertheless, it was definitely possible to underdress in the sit-down restaurants in the evenings. NCL touts its freestyle dining, meaning there are never assigned dining times or tables: you can eat constantly all day, and you could order multiple entrees at the restaurants if you so desired, and not a few people actually did both. While we got to know Joanna, our cabin steward, and we recognized the faces of some of the restaurant staff, only Joanna committed our names to memory. Entertainment on the Epic was bingo, karaoke, Merengue dance lessons, comedians, magicians, Vegas-style shows, and dance parties.
With eleven days to spend at sea, we should’ve adopted a more consistent routine, but it was hard for us this time around. We think it was the time changes: six times in eleven days we had to set our clocks forward, losing an hour. That made it regularly challenging to get up in the morning. Still, Chuck was up early every morning, sometimes off to the gym, others just spending time catching up on emails or reading. Once Lori was up, we were off to the hot tub (now that, we were very consistent in accomplishing: every morning of the cruise except our shore day in Madeira you could find us in one of the Epic’s seven hot tubs for at least an hour or so).
The rest of our days were occupied with a bit of work (we weren’t the only passengers working onboard), reading, walking about the ship, or enjoying conversation with other passengers. Evenings were about dining, going to a show, and having wine or a couple of drinks. Several evenings we especially enjoyed the band “Crystal Blue” in the Fat Cats lounge: they played pop tunes from the 50’s to the 70’s, catchy enough to get us up to dance a few times. And one cool and windy evening, we watched “Spiderman 2” on the big screen at the back of the Epic.
|Dancing in the Atrium with the Manhattan Band|
Some of the differences in the Epic crossing versus the Queen Mary 2 had nothing to do with the ships or the cruise lines. We had “North Atlantic” weather on the Queen Mary 2 (and December to boot), meaning the seas could be described as “unkind” to queasy passengers and the weather described as “gray”. Our course on the Epic was much further south and during the spring, so we had mostly sunny days. The seas were typically calm except for our two days over the deepest parts of the ocean, and even then they were not as bad as our “best” days on the Queen Mary 2. The other big difference, as we mentioned before, was the time changes: gaining time on the QM2 was much nicer than losing time on the Epic.
Owing to that difference in the weather, perhaps one of the most memorable aspects of our crossing on the Norwegian Epic was the truly phenomenal blue color of the ocean. It’s hard to describe, and the picture here can’t really do it justice. The best I can do is to call it “Space-Earth Blue”: that wonderful azure of the oceans you’ve seen in pictures of our planet taken from space.
|Space-Earth Blue Ocean|
By the time we stepped off the boat in Barcelona, we had stopped comparing our two crossings and had just decided they were two fine (but different) ways of traveling between home and Europe. We wished the Epic had more open deck space, an outside walking circuit from fore to aft and all the way around the ship, more areas just to sit and enjoy watching the ocean pass, to work, or to have conversation. We wished that the time changes occurred in the afternoons, like we’ve heard are done on other ships on eastbound crossings: at our age, we’d much rather lose an hour of daytime than an hour of sleep! We would have enjoyed a bit more of an actual library, and we would have liked more opportunities for ballroom dancing.
There were, of course, many reasons to love our crossing on the Epic. The pool area and the hot tubs were wonderful. Those Vegas-style shows were great, especially the new show, “Burn The Floor”. And surprisingly, the food, while much less formal and served in massive quantities, was exceptional. Dare we say, the food onboard the Epic was better than the QM2? Gasp! But then again, we are Americans.
If you’re a fan of those cute little towel animals, we’ll leave you with images of some of our favorites from the Epic: every evening when we returned to our cabin we were greeted by one.
On the Queen Mary 2, you don’t get a towel animal every night…just sayin’.
|Sunset On The Atlantic From Our Balcony|