There are so many restaurants and bars on board Norwegian Epic that it would be a major accomplishment to get round them all in a week-long cruise.
My hopes of sampling them all during two-and-a-half days on board were doomed to failure from the start, but it was worth a shot.
The final score was a paltry six restaurants. Not sure about the bars; think I lost count after a surfeit of tonic water and Coke (or was it the gin and the Jack Daniels?)
The first night started with drinks in the bar of the Moderna Churrascaria restaurant followed by dinner in Shanghai’s. Both the South American-style grilled meat and salad venue ($18 cover charge) and the Chinese restaurant ($15 cover charge) are new concepts for NCL.
The food in Shanghai’s was excellent – way better than standard high street Chinese fare in selection and sophistication. And although I didn’t get to eat in Moderna, I heard from others that it did not disappoint – waiters will keep carving steak, pork, lamb and various other meats until you beg them to stop.
I’m not very sociable in the mornings, and I tend to avoid waiter-service breakfasts where I might be herded onto a shared table with a bunch of strangers. So the Garden Cafe buffet (top) was just the job. With only 2,500 passengers on board – most of them travel agents nursing sorer heads than my own – there were plenty of spare tables. Even if it had been busier, there are table-spotters throughout the room directing passengers to vacant seats – a neat idea that other cruise lines should copy.
There was a wide selection of food, from fresh fruit to full fry-ups and the serving stations are well organised to prevent queuing. Best of all is the view over the bow from the front of the restaurant, although fresh-air fiends could take their plates (no trays here) to the Great Outdoors section on the pool deck.
Lunch was burger and chips in O’Sheehan’s, the cod-Irish pub at the centre of the ship which also serves comfort-food favourites such as fish and chips and chicken pie, together with a range of New York deli- sandwiches.
O’Sheehan’s (I’m not sure whether it’s named after NCL ‘s CEO Kevin Sheehan, or because the name sounds like “oceans”) also serves an all-day breakfast and is the only venue on board where food is available 24 hours a day. And it’s included in the fare; there’s no cover charge here.
Surprisingly there are times in the afternoon when the Garden Cafe is not serving, and it is not open throughout the night. I have a feeling that public demand might change that when Epic is sailing full in the Caribbean.
On my second evening I should have been dining in the Manhattan Room (above), where I would have been entertained by Elvis Presley, Madonna and Tina Turner – or tribute acts from the Legends in Concert troupe.
Instead I joined some friends in Teppanyaki (above), which was disappointingly empty when we arrived at 8.45 p.m. but was soon packed to capacity. There’s a $25 cover charge – this and Cagney’s steakhouse are the most expensive restaurants on the ship.
The chefs certainly put on a great show, cooking dinner on stainless steel grills right in front of the diners, but it was a triumph of style over substance. The performance dominated the evening and the food was a disappointment – too heavily seasoned and soaked in soy sauce.
Back to the Garden Cafe for breakfast the next morning, and a hasty hamburger at the Great Outdoors for lunch.
Dinner was the Cirque Dreams show in the Spiegel Tent, which I have written about already.
So what of the restaurants I failed to eat in?
Along with the Manhattan Room, which seats 600, Taste is the other main dining room, with no additional cover charge. This is freestyle cruising, so there’s no assigned seating. Passengers can book in advance, wither through the box office or via the interactive TV in their cabin.
There are some quirky design features in the 540-seat Taste, but I am not sure about the open galleries above the central area – noise from the casino could become intrusive.
Cagney’s Steakhouse, alongside the Moderna Churrascaria, is an NCL tradition, as is Le Bistro French restaurant which seats 124 and carries a $20 cover charge.
There’s an a la carte Noodle Bar outside Shanghai’s, and Wasabi sushi bar adjacent to Teppanyaki, also charging by the item.
La Cucina is an Italian trattoria up on deck 14, accessed from the Garden Cafe, and serving pizza and pasta under the shade of an olive tree. Cover charge $10.
Suite guests staying in the Courtyard are provided for with their own Epic Club restaurant and grill, and the Posh Beach Club. There’s no additional charge – it’s included in the suite fare.
All in all, a comprehensive selection – there can’t be many styles of food that are not available on Epic. And despite the proliferation of cover charges, it’s perfectly feasible to eat lavishly and with variety throughout a seven-day cruise without having to pay an extra cent.