Norwegian Epic - A Taste of Epic
NCL's brand new 153,000grt monster, Norwegian Epic, was due to have a preview in Rotterdam after being handed over by the shipyard in Saint Nazaire.  There was a two night jolly from the 19th-21st June 2010 followed by an overnighter to Southampton on the 21st.  These would both be classed as inaugurals and be followed by another two night jolly on the 22nd and a transtlantic to New York on the 24th, also called inaugurals.  At least she wouldn't be having two months' worth like Norwegian Gem!  Originally in the UK, only the transat had been available to book which was unusual since they'd done the same with Norwegian Pearl to Southampton at the end of 2006 and Norwegian Gem to Dover in October 2007.  My friend Gary had been on Pearl and said it was a waste of money for one night.  Also they arrived on the 1st December for 7am in the cold, rain and dark in the QEII Terminal.  Nothing was done even when she sailed the next day.  This time was mid-June so hopefully hot and sunny, or at the very least dry after the past few cold summers.  Plans for a trip to New York fell through so I used part of what I would've spent having a moment of madness on the 21st May 2010.  This was the closest I'd come to booking a cruise since Vision of the Seas in February 2009, eleven weeks before the departure date.  The flight from Southampton to Amsterdam on Flybe was booked first, little knowing at the time BAA's booking engine was actually run by lastminute.com so it didn't include checked baggage.  I had to call to add it, costing an extra tenner when if I'd booked direct it would have been the same price.  It hadn't even given me a proper booking reference, just theirs.  Then it was a trip to Thomas Cook in the morning since NCL's website was useless when you put in one passenger, saying to phone or request a call back.  Fat lot of help THAT is!  I had checked the Thomas Cook website and seen there was a mere £18 between the lowest grade inside and balcony so decided to go for some fresh air.  I'd noted the price on the site and was surprised to get it actually a tenner less at £207.  That'd pay for my hold baggage then!  Darren at NCL told Samantha the only BF grade cabin left was 9235.  Last what, we didn't know since he hadn't elaborated.  We both had a terrible time trying to find it on the brochure plan because the numbered them so small.  But it was starboard aft once we'd finally found it.  Once I got home it was time to book my accommodation.  Where could I possibly stay but on the gorgeous Rotterdam (V), now she was open as a hotel?  Gave me the perfect opportunity to visit and two nights should just about do it.  If I missed anything then tough.  I opted for an Oceanview since an inside wouldn't give you that ocean liner feeling.  It was €90 a night plus breakfast for €17.50 each day.  The booking was in Dutch so I hoped I'd clicked on the correct things.  I think all this plus being on two ships I'd never set foot on before was a better than a weekend in New York.  I'll get there one day with any luck.  Maybe as a transat.

On the 5th June I received a call from Becky about my e-ticket.  I hadn't printed it off so she did it for me as well as my luggage label.  I hadn't even thought about it
since  RCCL and P&O send email reminders.  A week before I received proper NCL luggage tags!  I booked a car to the airporr using a new company since Silverdrive were on holiday and it only cost £25 which isn't bad.  Meanwhile NCL changed the name of the trip from 'Inaugural Cruise' to 'A Taste of Epic'.

Early start on the 19th since my flight was at 0710, arriving Schiphol approximately 0930.  I hadn't flown from Southampton since November 1995 and that was also to Amsterdam, but using KLM back then.  Check in was a doddle then I went through security, did a little shopping then waited at Gate 1 for boarding.  A rather interesting mural would have been better had it been
Queen Mary 2!
The flight left about ten minutes late but it was pleasant except for the fat bloke next to me.  Orange, coffee AND cider at that time in the morning????  I was never given the option to have anything since my back was in the overhead locker and he was inconsiderate.  We arrived at Schiphol a little early, docking with the easyJets and other cheapo airlines.  It was a very long walk to passport control but that went very fast.  Baggage was a little wait but when it emerged on the carousel, mine was fouth so I gr4abbed it and headed out, trying to find where to buy a train ticket.  Dutch trains are a nightmare because the information can be sparse.  Luckily I'd had experience from when Rowan and I went to Rotterdam from Amsterdam in May 2009 while on Vision of the Seas.  Because I was earlier than I thought, I had no idea when the next train was so asked some people who didn't know either then someone who worked there.  She was very helpful and asked me to answer some questions for her survey.  When the train came I noticed unlike here, no one offered to help with my case.  The constant pain in my side I'd had several months wasn't too bad but a hand wouldn't have gone amiss.  I'd opted for first class, remembering the clamour going in the second coaches last year.  First was €18.50 single and is always virtually empty.
I recognised the skyline of the city I had become so familiar with since my first visit on Aurora in September 2007 and now was getting excited.  Epic had arrived for 9am so just two hours before me.  Soon I would see her in all her ugly glory!  With Rotterdam and Epic, it was a real Beauty and the Beast.
My friend Ben had to work so was unable to meet me.  Again no one offered any help as I struggled getting my case down the stairs.  Major work going on around the station but I eventually found the taxi rank.  The one I got in was a Mercedes - oooh!  It was only about €16 though to the Cruise Hotel.  My first sight of Epic was as we stopped at the traffic lights leading to the Erasmus bridge and she looked HORRIBLE!  Even my taxi driver compared her to one of the blocks of flats.
I arrived around 11.30am, which was very good time, so took a few dock shots before I headed inside to check in.  I didn't know what time it would be.  Here it varies, depending on hotel but can be anywhere between 12-2pm.  The Cruise Hotel site was lacking in any sort of real information.
It felt like I was the ONLY person not there for a bloody conference!  Check in had a very long queue due to delegates but it was fine.  I was given room 2034 on Lower Promenade and it turned out to have a lovely view of my next ship!  I was also glad to arrive when I did because it was now pouring with rain and very windy.  This weather reminded me of when I was there with Pam on Boudicca in June 2008 - freezing cold!  It was about 12C this day so much colder.
Epic had been due to sail on her jolly at 7pm (changed from 5pm before I even got there).  It periodically rained, which didn't help.  I gave up after calling my dad about 7.20pm and was told her AIS wasn't even on.  I went back to the room to find the keycard didn't work.  When I'd arrived, the sexy male cleaner opened it for me so I had no idea since I'd slept most of the afternoon.  I went to reception who got me a new one.  Then I saw the sod was away from the berth at 7.33pm so I dived back on deck.  She blasted, we blasted, she ignored.  Balloons were let off near us which was great.  There were several people watching from my wonderful vantage point and a man with his grandson, who must have been about five years old but spoke excellent English, were impressed when I said I was going home on that when she was back on Monday.  I really enjoyed being part of the Dutch experience and one day I hope to do it again.  I had also warmed to Epic.  She has some nice lines.  It's really forward angles which make her look really awful.
Back to my room.  It was very disappointing to ship was mainly closed to the public.  Even if you paid for a tour, you still couldn't see many public rooms except through glass doors.
The bed was ever so comfortable and I only needed one pillow when it's normally two.  I got up early to explore the ship but was thwarted almost everywhere except decks.  I went to breakfast only to be told I had to pay!  Not very happy about that.  I checked my email confirmation and while they had taken the money (€230 total) it said breakfast NOT included in Dutch while everything else was in English!  I went to reception and they were at a loss, the lady even telling me I'd been overcharged five euros, which they'd give back at the end.  I was given a voucher and said to go for breakfast, even though it was past 10am so closed.  She said she'd phone to let them know I was on the way.  When I got back up there no one came to the desk for ages even though they'd seen me.  Finally a very nice Filipino waiter came to my aid and got someone.  She was unsure so asked her supervisor who said yes I could have it.  What a bloody farce!  Then it was back to my room after a little shopping.  This was very disappointing.  Books and DVDs were in Dutch only, models were crap and there was generally very little of interest to buy souvenir-wise.  I washed my hair but didn't dare risk the shower.  There
was no grip so as soon as you set foot onto it wet, you slipped.  As it dried I had another doze as I waited for Ben, who would be there around 2pm.
Ben came as I was being kept awake watching the Paraguay/Mexico game in the World Cup.  It was so thrilling and that was just the first half!  He said I was happier than he'd seen me last year and how my ex-boyfriend was bad for me.  I told him how he's now trying to scare me with threats, emailing Rowan first in April to get her to do his dirty work and remove him from this site by denying to a witness it even happened.  Rowan was there when I met him, went with me to Southport and bought him dessert, talked to him on the phone at my house in February when he'd been unsupportive over my mum's cancer diagnosis.  Then writing to me last month threatening court despite saying in March no more communication, because she hadn't replied, even though he would have seen on Facebook she was very ill but only cared about saving his own skin with more lies.  Ben said I was right doing nothing as my solicitor advised since he has to prove it never happened, which would also involved Royal Caribbean since they have records and Rowan is willing to testify if he goes to court.  He hoped Rowan was better soon and pleased I was back to my old cheery self now the relationship was finally over.  It was great seeing him as usual.  He's always so wise!  We had a very long chat in my room and over lunch about politics, healthcare and various other issues.  He liked my room and the way it had been done.  He thinks it was a first class cabin and one of the light fixtures was original.  Lunch in the Lido at 3pm was a very long affaiir.  It was crowded for a start and there weren't enough waiting staff.  The menu in English was just some pages stapled together.  Some people gave up waiting to even be seen.  Then they stopped serving drinks so you could only go to the very small and very cramped Ocean Bar.  There are three companies running the Rotterdam - Cruise Hotel, who own the rooms, Lido and Ocean Bar, someone else who owns all the other public rooms which they only open for conferences or events and those owning the actual ship.  You pay a lot of money to stay or visit and they also could make plenty by opening them up.  The meal was nice though but my burger was medium rare, which is never told you was cooked that way.

We discovered the bridge open, although we think the lady bobbing in and out of a door below was about to lock it.  So inside we went and had a little play and look around before Ben left at around 6.45pm instead of 5pm.

In the morning as I waited for
Epic to come back, I had a little explore on C deck.  I was asked if I was lost.  With a camera and video????  I went up top to wait for Epic and Ben.  He came up the aft lift but the gangway was locked so he came via the main entrance instead.  It had rained a little but thankfully was dry when she poked her nose around the corner, still using tugs.  A fireboat greeting was unexpected since it was her second call.  Her arrival time was 8am but she was about twenty minutes early.

Breakfast as she was docking, since we'd lose her soon as she pulled in behind the buildings, and this time there was no problem.  Ben asked if he could buy a coffee but the lovely Filipino waiter said he could just take some.  Then we went out for dock shots and I could see Epic peeking over a roof.  Afterwards we went back on to kill a little time before the 11am check out.
I'd managed to get a few rooms such as Queens Lounge and La Fontaine because they were open for some fucntion so I explained I was a guest, leaving for the Epic and asked if I could take some photos since everything had been locked.  They were very nice about it.  But they had been closed ALL weekend when they could have been making money.  When I checked out, it turned out I'd been overcharged €20 because the room was €75 for the Sunday.  I was refunded which was good but the whole online system needs an overhaul.  We bought tickets for the Spido water taxi.  I had asked the night before about tickets and he tried to sell me one of theirs.  No chance.  They go to the pier and I wanted to walk over the bridge.
Ben was wonderful, helping me with my case up and down steps on the boat and by the bridge.  As we walked over we bumped into Aad, who I'd known on a forum a few years ago.  I was surprised he remembered me.  I also met his fiancée Nicoline and both were going on Epic.
Check in began at 10am but the queue stretched way outside the terminal.  There were only a reported 2000 people going so it shouldn't have been like this at 11.54am, the time I took the pictures
Ben said goodbye to us all and we shuffled along as the queue moved slowly to the sound of Abba tunes.  Aad and Nicoline invited me to join them for dinner since I was on my own so we exchanged cabin numbers.  You had to go to a table outside first, show your e-ticket and passport then were given a colour embrakation card.  We had black.  Through two security machines then up to the departure area just like reboarding during a call.  Bloody hell!  It was hot and packed, nowhere to sit.  Massive queue by passport control not moving while people were still being called by colour.  They had a VIP check in but none for Latitudes members, which would have helped ease it.  Also apparently the computers all went down long before we got there which held everything up.  I was told two different versions.  One was on the ship, hence no one boarding yet that was clearly because they were inspecting her bearing.  The other was in the terminal and they'd even flown NCL staff over from Dover to help since the Dutch staff were incapable and inexperienced.  The photos below were taken at 12.30pm.  We only had water coolers, which ran out of plastic cups very fast.  We'd had an announcement earlier saying they apologise for the delay in boarding but it was due to circumstances beyond their control.  Meanwhile more and more people turned up to wait.  It was chaos.
At 12.50pm we had another announcement.  Due to a technical problem affecting our speed, we would now be arriving in Southampton at 5.30pm instead of the scheduled 10am.  Not once did they say would be going at 10 knots or half speed as reported by the media.  I have no idea where that came from.  They said we'd still be departing at 4pm from here though.  That really messed people's plans.  So many had afternoon or early evening flights they would now miss.  It was okay for those in the UK generally but many from the Netherlands, Germany and other European countries were on this trip.  NCL offered a full refund plus future cruise credit for those cancelling and €100 towards rescheduled transport costs for those going.  Some, mainly elderly passengers, decided not to go.  Aad and Nicoline didn't know what to do.  They had booked through Cruise Travel, which was represented at the port on onboard the ship but many weren't.  There would be a meeting onboard at 2.30pm for all of their clients to discuss options and decide what to do.  Meanwhile no one from NCL offered any refreshment to the long-waiting passengers as a goodwill gesture but boarding FINALLY commenced somwhere around 1.15pm.  They were fast-tracked through check in around 2pm so they could attend the meeting while I managed to find a seat and wait.  I watched as you could tell those from the UK (real luggage labels) and those not (stapled or sellotaped bits of paper).  Also those with different coloured boarding cards just joined the ever-increasing queue.  When they called a colour, you could only hear it if you were near the check in desks.  By now it was getting on for 2.30pm and I went to ask what was called.  Turned out it was black.  It was a mad rush, someone fetched my card but I was waiting for that as the girl checked in the next people.  Passport control was a little easier now, where you handed over your embarkation card, then went to the gangway.  A woman from NCL asked if I was happy with the new timings.  I double checked the 5.30pm arrival and she confirmed it then I was on at 2.45pm, legs aching, feet swollen and side agony.  Someone squirted hand gel on then I went to find my cabin.  Already a couple of lifts were out of service but so far the ship looked fabulous.  The cabin, however, was a bit of a shock!
While storage was spacious, the sofa was uncomfortable, bed hard compared to Norwegian Gem when she was brand new, little room to move around the cabin, sink got water everywhere, including over the bed (not so in inside cabins where the beds are in a different position), toilet cramped.  The TV worked but the phone didn't.  No milk or spoons for the tea/coffee facilities.  But where the hell were the sockets????  Hunted high and low and by chance I found then under the dressing table but hidden by a cupboard door!  The bin was very small as well and filled easily.  Was not at all keen on these New Wave things but liked the balcony.  The main door was also difficult at times to open, having to really yank it occasionally.
I phoned my dad and he said no one told VTS about our delay.  He was asked who told him this and he replied his daughter was onboard so they said they'd speak to the agent.  Muster was due at 3pm but was thirty minutes late.  I passed people still boarding as I headed down to the Manhattan Room on deck 6.  We didn't need the lifejackets and it was over within minutes really.  Then back to the cabin to grab my things and go on deck as more people boarded.  Disappointingly decks 16 upwards were closed off.  It turned out the Villas weren't even finished.  Much of the ship was still being worked on!  So I went up on the deck.  This is one thing I REALLY hate about modern ship design - lack of space.  You lose connection with the sea and with so many sunloungers blocking everything, makes it difficult to navigate your way around.  We waited and waited and waited.
The gangway was finally pulled away just after 4.30pm so, like Saturday's jolly, we'd be leaving half an hour late.  The band by the pool were very loud, drowning out the singers at the terminal most of the time.  We had a wonderful send off, which put Southampton to shame when there were maidens.  This wasn't even a first sailing but the first with fare-paying passengers.  Rotterdam blew her whistle as we neared but we were mute.  Many people crowded her decks plus watched along the shore, from their offices or flats.  I love sailing from this city, even if it's just a call.
I went to ring Aad and Nicoline's cabin but found the phone wasn't working.  There was also an announcement about passports but only in public places.  Important announcement should be in the cabins as well.  So I went down to Reception on deck 5 to report the phone fault and find out what that was about.  I took the blue aft lift and this is where you come across a major design fault and irritation.  There is not only no button to deck 5, but if you go down to 4 there is no way out except up to 6 then walk forward to go down again.  I bought my boarding photo while I was passing and had a chat to the girl about our departure.  Then to find someone with sense.  The problem is, the desks both sides of the atrium are identical and have no signage.  I ended up at the financial part first of all.  This has to be the worst organised reception desk I've come across on a ship.  Talking to a lady in front, it appeared there were a lot of phones not working.  It also turned out the announcement had been to do with those staying on for the next trip, such as journalists.  I complained they should be in the cabins.  On Gem and Jade you had to get postcards from there so I asked about them only to be told, "We've stopped them on the Epic."  Very helpful - not!  Back to the room and saw Aad and Nicoline outside the door.  Their phone and TV weren't working.  They came in to look at my room and we spent some time chatting on the balcony, Aad pointing out some places he takes photos from as we cruised towards the Hook of Holland.  They told me what happened at that meeting and how everytone arrived then muster began so nothing was really decided, although by then Nicoline was on the verge of leaving the ship.  Coaches were being laid on to bus people to the airport and get them home.  We arranged to meet at the Manhattan Room for 8.30pm.  After I saw them out, I decided to try for some tea so called room service (now the phone worked) to ask for some milk.  From the girl's reaction, anyone would think I asked for a nuclear missile or furry handcuffs!  She grudgingly agreed to have some sent.  I'm honoured(!)
The milk arrived - in cartons!  Since the mini bar was locked I couldn't even keep it cool.  What a bloody stupid thing to do!  Hope they get this right.
My young friend Harry Cotterill wants to be a naval architect and as soon as he learnt I was going on Epic, he asked me to deliver his drawing.  He had written to NCL to ask if he could deliver it with no response.  So he sent it to me complete with a presentation and I was delivery lady.  I met Jonny, my steward, as I was on the way and he explained the mini bar was locked because people spent money and they had no milk or spoons for the facilities.  I mentioned the 2pm cabin kick-out Aad had been told but he knew nothing about it.  He agreed to open the mini bar so I could put the milk in it.  I'd already had to throw one away by then.  I got to Reception, first explaining to the man who asked what you wanted followed by the girl at what it was.  Then I hit the shops since I had time.  Postcards - yay!!!  Why couldn't she have said they were stocked?  Silly cow.  Well I bought a few things but the counter is so small I had to put things down as she went.  Sadly no bears - meanies!  Hard enough finding the fridge magnets.  I had to ask about those.  The woman behind the till used to work on the QE2 for a year in 2002 so we talked about how much Southampton had changed.  She hoped to be able to get off while she was there.  When I returned to the cabin to dump my goodies, Jonny was trying to find where to hand his towel monkey.  Then I left him to it, heading down to the Manhattan Room to wait for Aad and
Nicoline.  The food was wonderful, as was the service.  My New York Strip Steak was medium instead of well done so the waiter fetched a whole new plateful.  The Legends Unplugged during th meal was good too.  Madonna wasn't bad, Elvis very good, Tina Turner terrible!  Takes more than a wig and short skirt.  She sounded nothing like her.  The five singers were excellent and really set the place rocking, as well as doing some audience participation.  Our waiter Marco told us some didn't like the music, wanting to eat in peace and even some waiters weren't keen but couldn't help dancing along at times.  I love this room and if I'd had longer I'd have gone in another night.  It was different.
That really bucked our spirits up after such a rotten beginning.  We said our good nights and I went back to the cabin and found no lights on.  No one had said you had to push the card down in the slot by the door!  I ended up finding a steward to ask since I couldn't see Jonny.
It suddenly occured to me Aad and Nicoline could have the same trouble so headed up two decks to see them.  Nicoline had worked it out but it was interesting seeing their inside cabin compared to mine and wish I'd taken some photos later.  The beds were apart, Aad told me, and so he put them together himself.  After a chat we said goodnight again and I returned to my cabin to get ready for bed.  Outside I saw a vessel in the distance.  Knowing my luck it would be a bloody ferry but I took it anyway just in case it was something worthwhile.  I found out after I'd got home it was Crystal Symphony and my dad had sent texts which I didn't get until it was too late.
Despite managing to find the light switches, one was elusive.  Like sockets, searched high and low but to no avail.  In the end, since it was above the mirror and bouncing into my eyes, I had to pull the damn card out.  Now this is a real pain if you want to go to the toilet in the middle of the night from the other side of the bed.  Whoever designed these stupid cabins will clearly never sail in them!

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© Patricia Dempsey 19th-22nd June 2010
Not to be reproduced without permission