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  • Writer's pictureKinsey Texeira

Navigating NCL Cruise: Uncovering the Good, Bad, and Ugly Experiences

Let me start by explaining why I even feel entitled to blog about cruises. We have been avid Carnival Cruisers for the last 7 years. And before that, I grew up cruising with my family. I have 4 children who I've taken along each time, so I feel as though I know the in's and out's of most every part of the ship.

For context, we have mostly cruised the Mexico route, simply because leaving out of LA is easiest for us, (and my sister when they come along). This particular time (as you all know from my instagram), my husband and I took the NCL Epic out of Rome, Italy (alone) for my birthday. Which we often do to see if it would be a good fit to bring the entire family on.

I will try my best to break down all the details and information that I find important. And of course, I will compare Carnival to NCL. But if you feel as though I haven't answered all your questions, please leave your question below.

Civitavecchia is a quaint little fishing town approximately an hour and a half outside of Rome. So if that is where your cruise leaves out of, it is best to fly into Rome airport. We stayed for 2 nights prior to embarkation to acclimate ourselves before we left for the cruise. I highly recommend that, especially if its your first time cruising. (cruising is fun but exhausting if you're not prepared).

Day of embarkation

We stayed right near the Trevi and took a cab (15 euro each) to the train station at about 6am (our check in for the cruise was 11:30am), from there, we spent around 9 euro each for the hour and a half journey to Civitavecchia. The scenery was so beautiful along the way though, so to me it truly made it feel like 20 minutes.

Now, I promised the good, the bad and the ugly.... so here's where the ugly comes in! Boarding a train for a 10 day cruise in Rome with 2 checked bags and a carry-on (plus some) is quite the pain in the rear. I needed particular outfits for particular content, but lugging the bags across the Roma Termini tracks was NOT worth it. Train stations are very packed, and there are no rules, or people of authority standing around correcting problems, so you are squished like sardines most of the time, and if you have bags, it is that much more chaotic. I LOVE riding the trains. LIKE LOVE. But with no bags. lol. Trust me, it is a completely different experience. With that being said, I didn't learn that lesson until it was too late. And I survived. UNTIL we got to Civitavecchia. We got off the train and instead of following the other english speaking people we met aboard, we starting walking to where we saw the ship.(OBVI) There were zero signs, zero cabs, and zero buses. So we walked with our THREE bags for 45 minutes, until we realized we were at a dead end. We tried to ask a local man going to his car, and he had absolutely zero english abilities. So we google mapped the route on our phone and realized we still had a hike ahead of us. Not only were we 45 minutes from where we started, we were basically another 45 minute walk to the actual port call. So after the 45 minute trek back to where all the other confused people were standing, we hailed the first bus we could find, that spoke somewhat english and paid 5 euro each to drive us to the port.

Once inside the tent for check in though, it was easy peasy. Actually way easier and less chaotic than Carnival tbh. Europeans are just so much nicer sometimes.

If you've been on carnival and have to go to the "muster stations" meeting, then you'll be happy to know about NCL. (Muster stations are basically where you go if there is an emergency onboard and you must evacuate (think Titanic and the little dinghy's)...

Once we were on board the cruise, (which didn't take long after getting lost), you basically just get off the elevator and simply find your station per floor. You check in, smile at them and be on your way. Our cruise had 4400 people aboard and at all times I could never tell. That is a really big deal to me.

Muster stations have always been a joke to me, because lets be real. If the ship is sinking, I 1000% forgot about where you told me to go. PERIOD. But I get I get it as a business owner.


The rooms are significantly smaller than Carnival. They are very European compared. Even down to the outlets, to the toilet, to the shower space and even down to the table space. They are also a lot darker. I think that was for lack of lighting. I will never again do an interior room if on NCL. We were directly across from the balcony rooms, so during cleaning, I got a sneak peak and they are way worth the upgraded price.

Simple cruise knowledge. ...know where you're going to hang out and book accordingly for your room. We accidentally booked on the other side of the activities we like to do, so we had to walk across the ship to take the elevator more than once.


I 100% liked the activities better on NCL than Carnival. They had way more restaurants, sports bars and areas to hang out. There were multiple times on carnival we couldn't find a place to sit, but on NCL, we never found that to be a problem. One night we were able to go bowling, play pool, play darts and go to several shows basically on our own. Even the casino was significantly less crowded.

On our ship (the epic) they also had the ice bar. Now anyone that knows me, knows I absolutely despise the cold. BUT the ice bar was one of my funnest experiences. You get to choose a silly jacket and sit on ice while the bartender makes you something special. P.S. you can totally ask for a virgin.. so kids are also allowed.


From the drink package, to the free night of fine dining and to the possible spa credit, the perks on NCL far exceed Carnival.

Drink package

Carnival- you are limited to 15 drinks for any package you matter what. Now this includes not only alcohol but coffee, smoothies, water bottles and soda...

NCL- unlimited drinks which include all of the above and more. Meaning- you can get not only amazing coffees, sodas, virgin drinks, but also the bars are so much classier.

Free fine dining

You can normally always find a deal that has this free night of fine dining as a choice. I wasn't too jazzed about it- UNTIL I GOT THERE. It made such an impact on us, that we ended up doing a few more nights of paid dining afterwards. Obviously, I'm the sucker. haha.


I was super irritated about this. Read the fine print with the internet package. The "free" is only for a couple of hours, so we ended up having to pay an extra $300 for our internet plan because we still had to work while on the ship. Now keep in mind, that is that price PER phone, so we shared the internet by logging off after each of us did our work and allowing the other person on. We have our phone service through T-mobile so when we are in Italy, we have service, so it was only really an issue while at sea.

Shore excursions

The 4th option you get is for $50 off any shore excursion. Shore excursions on the cruise are always way more expensive than if you are to book off the ship. But with that being said, there are benefits to booking through your cruise. One being that if they arrive late, the ship won't leave without you. Which was an actual issue on ours because of traffic and the amount of ships that were docked each day. So after our last experience I would say springing for a shore excursion a few times is not a bad idea.


Last subject I probably need to cover is food, because lets be real, the most important thing about vacation is eating. I really liked NCL's amount of differing places to eat. Now, the buffets on all cruises are pretty much exactly the same. Same food, same vibe, same menus basically. This time around I didn't eat at the buffet except for breakfast.

On every cruise they normally have an area where you can get hamburgers (usually on the pool deck). I have a very high expectation of this because of Carnival. Carnival has "Guy Fieri BBQ" as their hamburger station. The burgers are LEGIT!!! Not only are they delicious, they have an entire bar next to it with every single condiment you can think of. NCL has basic burgers with little to no condiments. I was so disappointed. Carnival also has a taco bar, which is just as great. Now in comparison, that is a small complaint to the rest of the places to eat on board.

I absolutely fell in love with the sports bar on NCL (for free/included) O'Sheehan's. They had legit bar food, but it was so good. They were also surrounded by a bowling alley, pool tables, darts and games. It was such a nice break from the normal "cruise" food. Also included in the "free" dining is a Chinese restaurant. We really enjoyed that as well.

Other places you can eat but pay extra for included a French, Italian, Brazilian, Teppanyaki, Sushi, and a steak house. We got a free night of dinner included in our package and we chose the Moderno Brazilian buffet. GUYS. Always choose this as your free meal. It was so good. Changed our attitudes for sure! We kind of became a little bratty after that and decided if we didn't like the free meals they were offering that we would spend the small overage and eat out at a place we knew we would enjoy. We also ate sushi one night, and as picky as I am, it was some of the best I've ever had.

One last thing that NCL had that Carnival doesn't is an ice bar. So of course for the gram I totally went, and it was such a blast. They do nothing more than let you freeze your butt off and give you 2 drinks, but it was so worth it.

I hope I covered the most of all the things you want to know, but if I haven't ask away and I'll be sure to get right back to you!

Don't forget to make new friends, stay up late, sing karaoke, and have the best time!

Happy cruising!

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