Freestyle Dining on NCL’s Epic: Perfect for Solos?

by Gray Cargill on March 23, 2010

Rending of Epic's Wasabi

Rendering of Epic's Wasabi restaurant

I got a press release last week from Norwegian Cruise Lines announcing another awesome feature of their new ship, the Norwegian Epic.  You remember the Norwegian Epic is the new ship with the staterooms for solo travelers, right?  As if that weren’t exciting enough, they also have 21 freestyle dining restaurants, including 11 that are free as part of your cruise package.  Why do I find this exciting?

Did you hear the part about 11 of them being free?  That’s pretty exciting.  But for me, just the idea that I would have so many dining options really appeals.  I have to be honest that one of the things that has always turned me off the idea of a cruise is the traditional dining format of assigned seating at a designated time in a formal dining room.  In a word: Bleh. Double bleh for those of us traveling solo.

Sure, this might work out well for the solo cruiser if you were to be assigned to a table with friendly people who welcome you with open arms, but let’s face it, that’s a crap shoot.  You could just as easily be seated with people who don’t want you at “their table”, or with people you wouldn’t normally want to spend time with, if given a choice.

I would much rather be free to dine on my own schedule, the way I am used to dining at restaurants in cities I visit.  Sometimes I want to be alone, so I get a table.  Sometimes, I want to be social, so I sit at the bar.  If I were to meet some new friends during the cruise that I wanted to dine with, I’d like the flexibility to do so.  (Especially if I don’t have to pay extra for the privilege.)  The Norwegian Epic is offering that option, in many different venues.  So I’m getting much closer to a place where I could be very easily persuaded to take a cruise–on the Epic.

The free-of-charge dining options on the Epic feature a variety of dining experiences.  They are (taken verbatim from their press release):

  • Taste, the atrium restaurant serving traditional and contemporary cuisine;
  • Manhattan Room, reminiscent of an elegant supper club complete with music, dancing and entertainment;
  • O’Sheehan’s Neighborhood Bar & Grill, serving American favorites and comfort food, 24 hours;
  • Garden Café, Norwegian’s signature action station casual restaurant;
  • Great Outdoors, the pool-side grill;
  • Spice H20, serving Latin and Asian-influenced cuisine in the adults-only complex;
  • Atrium Cafe and Wine Bar;
  • Studio Lounge, serving snacks and light fare;
  • Epic Club, the elegant, exclusive eatery available to Norwegian Epic’s Suite and Villa guests;
  • Courtyard Grill, the more casual, outdoor area of the Epic Grill, open for breakfast and lunch; and
  • 24-hour room service.

If you don’t mind spending a little extra, you can also try the following:

  • La Cucina, Tuscan-style eatery serving regional Italian specialties, $10 per person;
  • Cirque Dreams & Dinner, two shows nightly including a three-course meal, $15 for general seating/$20 per person for preferred seating;
  • Shanghai’s, Norwegian Epic’s new Chinese restaurant serving a delicious mix of Chinese dishes and noodle bar specialties, $15 per person;
  • Shanghai’s Noodle Bar, a la carte pricing;
  • Wasabi, expansive sushi and sake bar, a la carte pricing;
  • Le Bistro, Norwegian’s elegant bistro serving classic French cuisine with an American flair, $20 per person;
  • Moderno Churrascaria, expansive salad bar and choice of a variety of meats served by tableside passadors, $18 per person;
  • Cagney’s Steakhouse, the line’s signature American steakhouse, $25 per person;
  • Teppanyaki, the largest signature Japanese experiential restaurant at sea, $25 per person; and
  • Pizza delivery, $5, available 24 hours around the ship.

There’s enough variety here to satisfy any foodie’s cravings.  And if you’re looking to make friends, you have a lot of opportunities to dine-around and see which restaurants are conducive to that.

Have you done a solo cruise before?  What was your dining experience like?  What do you think about these options on the Epic?  I would be interested to hear from experienced solo cruisers, since I have yet to try a cruise.

Anonymous August 16, 2010 at 4:24 pm

It’s true that being assertive usually helps to make connections with others when traveling solo, but not always. I wouldn’t assume that everyone who has had a bad solo cruising experience is a wallflower. It might just have been the other passengers they happened to sail with. Sometimes you click with people and sometimes you don’t.

Charly August 16, 2010 at 2:45 pm

Hey guys,
this is a vacation. stop acting like wallflowers and get out there. When it’s assigned seating, Be the first to say ” Hi, i’m Charly from jersey and you are? The whole table will speak up. it just take one person to act like a social director. Stop being so shy. Be bold no one here knows you and will never see you again so be that aggresive person not the shy one. You can do this on the tours too. I met so many people on the two solo cruises, that I had to write names on the back of my photos. remember, “what happens on the cruise stays on the cruise”.

SoloFriendly April 1, 2010 at 12:55 am

Yeah, I'm not a big fan of room service. I mean it's nice for the occasional breakfast treat, or if you're sick, or if you're already in your jammies and your stomach starts growling. But otherwise, I'd rather be out with other people eating. There's something about eating alone in a room where I sleep that feels pathetic to me. It's like being grounded when you're a kid.

Sabina April 1, 2010 at 12:11 am

“Double bleh” is right – sitting with strangers when eating alone. The forced and awkward conversations. The laughter cut off because whatever was said isn't really funny. Yuck.

But 11 restaurants for free?! You could go for lunch, if you're ever on board during lunch and not off sightseeing whereever you're docked. At this time of day you might be able to sit alone because it won't be so crowded. I went on a cruise, but I was with 9 other people, so the dinner dining room worked out perfectly for us. If you really want to eat alone, you could order room service. It was free on my ship, and I'll bet it is on yours too, if you go.

SoloFriendly March 25, 2010 at 4:36 pm

So there was no expectation for you to eat in the traditional dining room with assigned seating (that's what I consider traditional)?

joanna_haugen March 25, 2010 at 4:32 pm

It didn't have those names. There were just eight or nine places to eat on the ship. I think three of them had a modest charge for dinner, the rest were free all the time.

SoloFriendly March 25, 2010 at 11:03 am

I think finding a travel agent with expertise in cruises for solos is sound advice. You probably stand a better chance of winding up on a cruise with more solo travelers that way.

Ted March 25, 2010 at 1:58 am

My thoughts exactly when I read Lynn's post. As you noted, it's a crapshoot. She didn't say where her cruises were, or how long they were, but I'd guess they were longer than my four-day cruise and not in Southern California.

I also suspect that Lynn found people “very friendly and made a point of talking to [her]” because she's a woman. I've read many accounts of female soloists being approached and making friends easily. Conversely, my own experience is that male solo travelers are assumed to be dangerous or suspect and are thus given as wide a berth as possible. That may or may not have been a factor in the difference. Or I may have just been unlucky, or (I suspect) chosen the wrong cruise.

If I ever do cruise solo again, I'll find a travel agent who has interest and experience in cruises for single clients and get help in selecting something more likely to be hospitable. But I think I'll wait until I have someone to go with before I consider another cruise.

SoloFriendly March 25, 2010 at 12:38 am

Wow, Lynn, you and Ted could not have had two more different experiences!

Lynn March 24, 2010 at 10:02 pm

I've done two solo cruises on Royal Caribbean. I always ask for a table for 6 so I have a better chance of being seated with someone I like. I figure a table for 4 would put me with a couple. The first time I was seated with two couples, one of them elderly. The woman was full of information about people she had met, what excursions they had been on, where they had traveled, etc. She was very entertaining. I was celebrating my birthday during the trip and my dining companions arranged for the waiters to come sing to me. The second time, I was seated with a couple from Canada. Both times, my dining companions were very friendly and spoke to me whenever they saw me on the ship. You're right. I decided ahead of time that I would have to get out of my comfort zone. I also paid about 150%, but it was still lower than what some couples paid because I wait until the ship is almost full and the fares get reduced. People were very friendly and made a point of talking to me. It's a wonderful way to travel solo. Everything is self contained and the excursions are a built in way to meet people.

SoloFriendly March 24, 2010 at 11:04 am

Thanks for the review, Ted, it was really interesting (I read the full report at your website). You've confirmed my suspicion that it is indeed a crapshoot. I'm hopeful that now that cruise ships are starting to seek out solo customers, things will improve.

Ted March 24, 2010 at 3:12 am

I have taken one solo cruise so far. In hindsight it was probably the wrong cruise for me (largely because I apparently was the only solo cruiser on the ship), but it did give me an idea of how a cruise could possibly be enjoyable. I wrote about the experience in an article on my Web site. You're quite right that standard assigned dining is a crapshoot:

Arriving at the dining room, I was escorted to an empty round table near the center of the cavernous labyrinth. After twenty minutes of staring at five empty chairs, conversing only with the waiter and various staff who kept asking if anyone was with me (a question I was also repeatedly asked during the lifeboat mustering drill earlier that day), I had ordered dinner and was starting on the appetizer. I resigned myself to dining alone, and planned a visit to the maitre-d for a new table. Then the Lovebirds arrived. The twenty-something pair immediately sequestered themselves in their own lovey-dovey world of smooching, cuddling, whispering, and sharing each other’s food. They were all but oblivious to everything else. Five minutes later the Bumpkins turned up. An older couple from a small rural town, they seemed to have fallen off the proverbial turnip truck. They expressed befuddlement and even revulsion at the “exotic” items on the menu, and acted uncomfortable and overwhelmed. Mrs. Bumpkin would sometimes exchange a few words with me. For example, she told me she had never heard of anyone going on a cruise alone. Except for the occasional whispered word to his wife, Mr. Bumpkin was silent. Maybe he had nothing to say. The Lovebirds didn’t even tell me their names until the second night; the Bumpkins didn’t introduce themselves until the third night. Both couples mostly ignored me. The empty chair next to me didn’t have much to say either.

I suspect the chances are much better on a ship that attracts single passengers with dedicated staterooms than on a conventional cruise that deters singles by charging them double.

SoloFriendly March 24, 2010 at 12:32 am

What dining experience did you go for, JoAnna? Freestyle, traditional, or both?

joanna_haugen March 23, 2010 at 11:05 pm

Wow! That is a lot of dining options! The cruise I went on in January had only eight or nine places to eat.

SoloFriendly March 23, 2010 at 3:44 pm

Doug, thank you for your insights! I agree 150% isn't bad relatively speaking, but I'd prefer just 100% myself. 🙂 Teppanyaki and Wasabi caught my eye as well; I liked all the counter seating at Wasabi. I hope more of the restaurants have that kind of seating.

Doug March 23, 2010 at 11:24 am

I did a solo cruise on RCCL Monarch of the Seas (3 day) last Oct. I paid 150% of fare, which isnt bad cause a lot of cruise lines charge 200% for single occ. I'll admit the dining was a little weird the first night, after that it was cool. You meet so many people at the clubs and disco, so it's nothing but a thang. Solo travel is a great way to clear your mind.
As far as the Epic dining options…. good spread there. The Teppanyaki and Wasabi catch my eye. Thanks for posting.

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