Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Norwegian Epic Mediterranean Cruise - 5 Star Itinerary, 2 Star "Free" Food

When booking a vacation, Celiac's have to be extra special careful. I LOVE cruisin' and happened to be going to Europe for work - so why not add some fun time too?!

I decided to try a Mediterranean Cruise. The Norwegian Epic lined up perfectly with my schedule. The itinerary was a dream. Seriously, doesn't this look amazing (the port of call were!)??
  • Sun. - Barcelona, Spain - awesome
  • Mon. - At Sea
  • Tue. - Naples/Pompeii, Italy - AMAZING
  • Wed. - Rome (via Civitavecchia), Italy - Cool, extremely historic
  • Thu. - Florence/Pisa (via Livorno), Italy - awesome
  • Fri. - Nice (via Villefranche), France - awesome
  • Sat. - Provence (via Marseille), France - Ok
  • Sun. - Barcelona, Spain
My last cruise was with Holland America, which was impeccable, 5 stars doesn't do it justice. So... Norweigan had BIG shoes to fill. You'll notice a lack of pictures, which isn't like me.  But, as you read on, you'll sense my lack of excitement for the food on the ship - and with that, is a lack of excitement to take pictures...  So, you'll hear my story and can judge for yourself.  Now, I do have to say this.  I like food -- I love good food.  I eat out ALL the time.  I feel like I'm a good judge of meat, potatoes and chocolate, my 3 favorites. In my opinion, it's easy to get these 3 right, and I'm not pleased when places dont..

We decided to splurge (mostly because we booked so late and the balcony's were full) so we got a suite.  The balcony was incredible - it was an aft facing view.  With the suite came extra privileges, including access to "Haven".

Haven was an exclusive club, with its own pool, hot tub, restaurant and grill.  If you have not been on the Epic before, there are 4,000 + guests on board, which equals a lot of mouths to feed.  Norwegian has 2 sit down restaurants (with wait times) and 3 buffets included in the price of the cruise ticket as well as room service (pizza is extra), and 9 restaurants NOT included.  Of course, the quality of the food is much better in the paid restaurants.  Here's a summary of the options:

  • Outdoor choices - Courtyard Grill & Garden Cafe & Great Outdoors
  • O'Sheehan's Neighborhood Bar & Grill (24 hours)
  • Room Service (Pizza - $5)
  • Dining Room Dinner - Taste or Manhattan Room
  • Cagney Steakhouse - $25
  • La Cucina Italian Restaurant - $10
  • Le Bistro French Restaruant - $20
  • Moderno Churrascaria - $20
  • Shanghai's Noodle Bar - A la Carte
  • Shanghai's Chinese Restaurant - $15
  • Cirque Dreams & Dinner - $25 or $35
  • Teppanyaki - $25
  • Wasabi Sushi Bar - A la Carte
Now.. the cool parts of the ship, are Blue Man Group and Cirque on board. But... you need to make reservations, yes, reservations. And... don't be late, they WILL give up your seats - and yes, this Cuban from Miami knows all about being late, so yes, my seats WERE given up for my 10 minute delay - it didn't happen again! The good news for those that splurge is you have concierge treatment, they reserve seats for you as well - but, you do have to show up early to take advantage... 

The first night we ate at Haven.  The good -- No line, no wait.  Seated right away, spectacular table next to the window with a wonderful view of the ocean.  I had a butternut squash soup and a filet for my main course.  The soup was terrific, buttery, flavorful.  The blah -- The filet, average at best. We've had better filet's from Publix. The menu is the SAME every night.  If you want quick seating, quiet, beautiful surroundings, then same ol' same ol' will have to do.

We tried the French Bistro the next night - $20 a person, and well worth it.  When I arrived and advised I was gluten free and was really hoping for the duck, my server immediately said, I don't know that I can accommodate you, you may have to come back tomorrow.  I NEVER would have heard this on Holland America.  I asked her to please ask the chef - she did - and he was great, and said he'd make it work.  I'm glad they did.  All was great thereafter.

The next night we tried Shanghai's Noodle Bar - A la Carte.  The chef there was the best yet.  I previously asked if there was gluten free soy sauce on board and was advised there was.  When I asked my server, he was quick to say no, they don't have it.  I didn't stop there, I sat at the sushi bar and asked the chef.  He'd been working as a chef on the ship for many years and immediately said they do have it on board, and he'd do what it took to get it.  It meant calling a lot of people, going through the food storage in another location and bringing it to the restaurant.  This took 15 minutes, but, was WELL worth the wait. 

Norwigan prides themselves on freestyle dining.  I was interested to see what Taste or the Manhattan room (the 2 sit down restaurants that were included) were like.  We'll... there was a 20 minute wait to begin, what did I expect with 4,000+ mouths to feed and us going around 8pm.  They gave us vouchers for a glass of champagne at the bar while we waited.. Nice touch.  Finally, we were seated and ordered. It was loud.  Likely at least 500 people. I ordered a filet.  It was ruber, likely one of the worst filets I've ever had.  I was done.  We went to Haven.  We wanted a relaxing environment, a server who spent a whole minute with us, and ok food.  Haven fit that bill. I have to say, without Haven, we would have been miserable, or would have tried every pay to eat restaurant.

As I said, Holland America is great for foodies, and had EXCEPTIONAL training of food allergies for all staff that dealt with food.  Norweigan had a lot to learn in that department.  Let me give you a great example.  We just got back from Marseille, France. This was the one day the ship required us on board early, by 3:30 p.m. we were headed back to Barcelona.  We just had snacks on the street - a delicious Magnum ice cream bar for me.  Yum.  When getting back on the ship, we were HUNGRY. We got back on the ship, checked emails and realized we were not going to make it until dinner. The ONLY option open at 4:30, when we were scrounging for food, was a buffet by the pool deck. Unfortunately, Haven was closed, and so were all of the other "freestyle dining" options.  I was going to have a plain burger and fries.  The chef knew what gluten free meant, which was great, but, he also knew that the supposed gluten free fryer was previously accidentally used for chicken tenders, and cross contamination was of course a big issue.  He advised he'd use the fryer in the back for me. Nice, I thought.  No problem waiting. 15 minutes later, he finally advises the fryer in the back was also accidentally contaminated.  Too many accidents for my taste.  I scratched the idea - after waiting 20+ minutes (and me having to practively ask and ask what was going on opposed to him updating me on the fryer mishap) and decided to try my luck with room service.  I ordered gluten free pizza.  I wound up ordering a gluten free pizza from room service twice.  It was ok.  Just ok.

Another example... from our cool suite came goodies delivered to the room daily.  The first 3 days... the goodies were NOT gluten free (despite me telling the concierge I was gluten free on day 1, and making sure it was noted on my reservation).  I realized this was a daily yummy and asked the concierge to make them gluten free yummies so I could partake. These are the little details that make all the difference.

The itinerary - fabulous.  The tours around the cities were amazing (and incredibly expensive).  The Blue Man Group show was a lot of fun.  Cirque was really cool (although the food was blah at best).  Generally, the service was ok/good, not exceptional.  The food was blah - if you chose to pay extra, you'd have much better - you feel like you're always being asked to pay extra (more so than on your average cruise). Gluten free accommodations were ok, not terrific.  Attention to detail was not there. All in all... Only way I'd return on a Norweigan cruise ship is if the itinerary was amazing, and Holland didn't cruise there. 

Thumbs Sideways.

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