This was my first time Solo cruising with NCL. It's important to admit that I had a great time on the ship.
Their Studio cabin concept makes a lot of sense, and I hope it's widely adopted by most of the other major cruise lines.
The ship itself is beautifully appointed and is big enough that even loaded with 4000+ passengers it doesn't feel crowded. At the same time, sometimes it felt more like being inside a mall or big hotel resort than being on a ship. There's so many restaurants, lounges and bars inside that I had to push myself to go top-deck and see the ship sail away on a couple of occasions.
There were three things that stopped me from giving this review 5 stars, one of them was my fault, the other 2 may stop me from sailing with NCL in the future:
1. This cruise allows you to board in 3 different ports (Barcelona, Rome and Marseilles). I boarded in Rome due to the lower cost of airfare and the cruise, I will say that I came to regret it since the crew and activities are not prepared for this, ranging from terrible disembarkation procedures in Rome to missing out on a lot of the "Boarding" parties, activities and info, which took place in Barcelona (my 4th port).
2. The focus on up-selling, I enjoyed multiple of the specialty restaurants and thought it was worth paying for them... but the bar staff kept trying to upsell me to bottles of wine when I ordered a glass... ALL the time, it became annoying
3. Most guest services and staff seemed terribly uninformed and rude. I came to understand the concept of "Freestyle cruising" as "We don't do that here"
Having said that here's a few things I did want to also add to the review:
I had some great food on the ship. I actually left full all the time, so I definitely got my money's worth in the specialty restaurants. I tried to eat at different places every night. While I appreciated the variety, I know that I was only able to try all of these because I was traveling alone and didn't have to fork out 3+ cover charges for each of the restaurants as would be the case if I was traveling with the rest of my family.
Garden Cafe: While this is your standard cruise ship buffet, one thing that I was disappointing by was that it was only open for regular meal times... in other cruise lines this was always my go-to option when eating at irregular times.
O'Shehan's: While this place is open 24 hours and you ordered from a menu, I found their options good only at 2 am, when nothing else was available. When I asked for a burger at 10:30 am I was told that was part of their lunch menu that would be available at noon... Since they have the same "menu" all day, I found this confusing that they limited their options based on the time.
Taste / Manhattan: The food in both of these main dining rooms was great, and because we went there relatively late we didn't have to wait in line... but I saw huge lines around 8 pm that would dissuade me from eating there.
Moderno's churrascaria: was awesome! The only warning is that you have to go in hungry and be happy to leave uncomfortably full, the food was delicious and the service too (one of my friends didn't eat meat and the manager was able to offer her other alternatives)
Sushi: I wish I had more time and appetite to try the sushi place more times, they had a couple of rolls that weren't on the menu that were awesome (ask the sushi chef and waiters about these... totally worth it!)
La Cuccina: The food was great in this restaurant, since I sailed out of Italy I was a bit worried I'd be disapointed, I wasn't
As I mentioned this part was my reason for choosing to cruise on the Epic. I found the concept great, while I was let down by their current implementation of it.
While I really came to like our solo activities coordinator as a person, I found her very lacking in her job. When I boarded on "day 3" of the cruise in Rome, she came up to me and the other solo person who had boarded that day and announced that all of the other solo travelers already had dinner plans, so she wanted to find out what the 2 of us felt like doing on our own... this totally blew my mind, it was just 2 of us, and she didn't even try to introduce us or integrate us into the larger group (luckily me and the other solo were not bashful and we introduced ourselves directly).
I also had read on some of the reviews that the lounge had a happy hour 2 for 1 drink special during the meet-up time. I was surprised to find out this is no longer the case.
Luckily I was able to meet 2 great groups of other solo travelers, and I was never lacking for people to have dinner with, go on our own excursions or just hang out.
Disembarkation in Rome: As I mentioned above, this was very poorly managed and planned for if you wanted to get off early. I had a relatively early flight to catch and I expected to be able to carry my suitcase off the ship as I've done in other cruise lines in the past (normally being allowed to get off before the people who put their suitcases out). Since Rome is not a final port, the crew had everybody line up to get off at the same time, meaning people disembarking and people going off on their own excursions. The line was a huge mess and the staff was completely unhelpful in this regard. In the future it'd be a lot easier if they had people disembarking take one exit and people going on excursions go down the other gangway... the fact this wasn't done simply reiterated to me the crew and ship didn't care too much about passengers boarding in Rome and other ports.
Overall I had a great week at sea and met a lot of great people, but in the future I may go with another cruise line due to all the "little" details that made this vacation seem more like work than relaxation...