Now that’s a view, huh? This is why people choose balcony cabins on cruise ships! We were lucky enough to enjoy a cruise on November 5, 2011 on the Norwegian Epic, Norwegian Cruise Line‘s largest cruise ship to date. We usually book balcony cabins or above and this time was no different. Our cabin 13118, a family balcony on deck 13, was going to be for the three of us: my husband, my son, and myself. There is no difference between the family balcony cabin and a regular balcony cabin but for the location, which is near the children’s area on the ship. Here’s what Norwegian writes about the family balcony stateroom:
Conveniently located near the kids’ area, some of our Family Balcony Staterooms come with two lower beds that convert to a queen, one upper bed and a sofa bed, for a maximum capacity of four guests. Many are connecting staterooms, making it easier to bring the whole family. Triples feature two lower beds and a sofa bed. All of these staterooms feature curved walls, a unique bathroom treatment where every area is separate, including the shower and a modern vanity sink, plus a private balcony where the whole family can take in the beautiful views.
Before our trip and pretty much since the Epic’s inaugural cruise, I have heard many comments about Norwegian’s new stateroom design and much of it wasn’t positive. I couldn’t understand what the problem was since the pictures from the NCL website, like the one here, showed a modern and stylish cabin layout. Yes, the sink wasn’t inside the bathroom, but I could get over that, couldn’t I?
On embarkation day, when we were finally allowed to go to our cabins to drop off our bags, we excitedly made our way to deck 13. When we opened the door, I liked what I saw initially, just as I am sure the designers did when they planned the layout. After all, look at how nice it looks in the design picture. For a family traveling together or even a couple, in theory it sounds great. One person can be in the shower or the toilet area and another person can use the sink area. By dividing up the bathroom, more people have access to those areas.
But here’s the problem: Privacy. Yes, there is none. In the design picture you see the curved line in the floor separating the sleeping area and the bathroom-ish area. What divides it when you are in there is a curtain. No biggie, right? Just pull the curtain and jump in the shower. Again, maybe if you are a couple traveling this isn’t a problem, but in an already small cabin, having a curtain that separates this area really isn’t enough. I have never missed a wall so much in my life. If you needed to use the toilet area while someone was sitting on the sofa or sleeping on it, it was uncomfortable to say the least. I am trying to be honest here so sorry for TMI. We would put the TV on when someone used the toilet because otherwise we felt like we were in there with them. Awkward! I did like the sliding doors and brushed nickel-like finishes on the doors, but they were not enough to give you sufficient privacy in the toilet or the shower. On a very strange note, if the waters were even slightly rougher than normal and you didn’t make sure the door clicked in all the way, it would open with the rocking of the ship. Super awkward!
The cabin was contemporary and we liked that from the get go. With three people in the cabin, it was smaller than other comparable balcony cabins we have been in on other contemporary cruise lines. Being more than slightly anal retentive, I always like to unpack as soon as I get on the ship and we immediately noticed that there just wasn’t going to be enough space in the cabin for all three of us to do that. This picture is of the sofa that my son slept on and we only learned close to the end of the cruise that the cushiony back of the sofa actually opens up for storage. Granted, it’s for the pillows and blankets for the sofa, but still — we could have put some of the stuff that ended up on the ledge inside the cabinet area. Above the sofa you’ll see another ledge area with pot lights underneath. I assumed that this was all storage as well, but only the very end by the balcony door opens for storage. This seems like a missed opportunity for storage NCL. Underneath the bed, which you can see in this picture because the skirting was lifted up a little, are two metal storage bins. Again, pillows and blankets are stored inside, but my son took one for his shoes because there was zero space in the cabin for shoes and well, his smell. In addition, where other cruise lines have sofabeds, what you see here is the bed. That cushion is covered with a sheet and that’s the bed.
This picture is of our bed and I did really like that there were lamps near the bed as well as two shelves on each side to put things like jewelry and glasses. There was sufficient space to get out on either side although the area between the foot of the bed and the cabinet that the TV is on is quite narrow. In the design image it looks bigger than it is, but our cabin was also slightly different. The sofa was next to the bathroom area and our bed was next to the sliding door.
This is the wall opposite the bed, which you can see in the reflection in the mirror. Underneath the countertop where the coffee maker is you will find a cabinet with two doors and a separate one. The double door cabinet has two metal baskets on the door. I would love to hear what other people used these for as the cabinet is very narrow without shelving and so are the baskets. We tried putting shoes in the baskets and in the shelves, but found they fell out all of the time. The small cabinet next to it has the cabin’s only outlet at the top and this was truly the strangest place to put the outlet. One of the outlets out of the two didn’t work so we were glad we brought our compact Belkin power strip, but we had to rig it to stay up as it wouldn’t stay in the outlet. You can see the cord to the coffee maker going down into the countertop and down into the outlet underneath.
The mirror is right next to this area and there is a small stool to sit on to put makeup on and do your hair. The hair dryer wouldn’t stay on for any extended period of time and since I have long hair, I learned early on that it wasn’t going to be a cruise where I was going to blow dry my hair out. It kept shutting down and I don’t know if it was the brand of hairdryer or how the ship is wired, but I would most certainly bring my own hairdryer next time. On the other side of the TV you can see two open shelves near the wall. We discovered these accidentally and it always helps to be curious. When we were unpacking I saw this locks on the edge of the shelf wall and pulled on them and the shelf came out and rested on silver knobs on the wall. Score! Two more shelves to put things away! The last set of three shelves are next to the closet and one has the room’s safe. Since this is also curved, you do lose some of the shelf to the wall. The closet was one of the smallest I have ever seen and held our cabin’s life vests so most of the closet was taken even before we got there. There is also space next to the mirror by the sink and a drawer as well as the drawer under the sink where the garbage is. You can put your wet towels in here instead of on the floor so that was nice.
The balcony, which you can see here as well as in the first picture, was a great size. I think it is larger than the average balcony cabin’s balcony and I’m not sure how I feel about that. Not sure if I would have preferred slightly more space in the cabin and less in the balcony, but even a few extra feet inside would have been nice. The balcony has two basic chairs and a microscopic table. When we stood outside we realized that we could look down onto the balcony cabins on lower decks, which was deck 8. If you are booking one of these lower balcony cabins, just realize people will be looking down at you so make sure you are well, dressed. Otherwise we had plenty of privacy and never saw anyone around us unless we were looking over the edge of the balcony. I really liked that inside the cabin, the drapes have magnets that attach to the inside of the wall and completely block out any outside light. You’ll just have to cover the buttons on the nightlight and the phone if you want the room to be completely dark.
My biggest problem with our cabin, which I didn’t discover until the second to the last night of our cruise was our cabin door. When I decided to shower, I would lock the cabin door as well as pull the curtain shut. Keep in mind that the toilet and the shower area are right up against the hallway so you are right next to the cabin door. At this late point in our cruise I discovered that even with the door locked, you could put your cabin card in the door and open the door. I was shocked and I don’t know if this was something unique to our cabin or to all Epic cabins. I was constantly worried someone was going to walk in while I was showering. Yikes!
Would I recommend cabin 13118 on the NCL Epic to anyone? If you were a couple traveling together, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it. If you have three or four people, I might suggest two cabins or a suite if you can swing it. Additionally, I wasn’t sure if I wanted a family balcony cabin since these are usually for families with kids going to the children’s area called Recess up on deck 14. We occasionally saw children in the halls on deck 13, but if you wanted to sleep in, you might hear kids running up on the deck above you headed to deck 14. With hot water and great water pressure, the shower was great although you already know how I feel about the cabin layout. We had to be careful with the water temperature in the sink as most times it came out hot no matter what we set it at. If you look at a cabin as a place simply to lay your head, then you’ll like the Norwegian Epic family balcony cabins. If you are looking for something more, you’ll definitely get that although I’m not sure it’s what you expected. I’m excited that Norwegian Cruise Line has stated that in their next ships, including the Norwegian Breakaway due out in 2013 and the Norwegian Getaway due out in 2014, that they will not follow the Epic’s cabin design. Back to what works not only for the cruise line, but for the cruise passenger as well.