Just got back from a Thanksgiving trip on the Norwegian Epic leaving out of Miami and sailing to the east Caribbean. When I read the other reviews here after I had booked, I was scared we would have an awful time. As is the case with many online reviews, and especially on this site, is that you must take reviews with a grain of salt. The cruise was great. If you didn't have a good time on this ship you are the type of person that couldn't have a good time anywhere. Didn't do the roll call, I prefer to just spend time with the wife and meet people on our own so can't comment on it. I'd venture to say our cruise was 90% full. We don't have children so honestly don't know how it is for kids we were to busy just trying to dodge them as they were running around everywhere. We also don't shop much on cruises so I can't comment too much on the port shopping. It is a large boat, it is crowded, and there are lines. If that bothers you a lot pick another boat.
Here is my findings -
Fairly speedy for the most part check in/out with your room key. Miami boarding was a little slow but if you get there early may be better. Our bags arrived timely in front of our rooms. Getting on and off the ship on ports was easy except for the Bahamas with a later arrival time everybody wanted off at the same time. You are greeted back at the ship with water and cold towels and some music outside the ship. If carry your own bags off the ship you can be off the last day very quickly.
GETTING AROUND THE EPIC
Its a monster. We did not figure out how to get around well until the last couple of days. Pay attention to the colors, signs, and keep track of which end of the boat you are on and its fine. You will wait for elevators at peak hours. Take the time to explore and read all the orientation information. Once you get the hang of the ship its not too bad.
We stayed in a balcony stateroom. As is the case with most cabins, we found it a bit small but the bed was great, very comfortable. There are lots of nooks and crannies for storage space but heavy packers may have a hard time. People complained about the toilet and shower areas being too transparent but we didn't find it that bad. The balcony offered a great view in every port and nice sunsets. Service was ok, the lady took care of our needs provided what we needed timely. We asked that she clean the bathroom area better one day and she happily obliged. They require you keep the same beach towels the whole trip. We lost one and I think they might charge you for an additional one but the towel guy said he wouldn't charge us after we lost one. Overall about average, nice smaller king bed.
FOOD DRINKING AND DINING
You are not going to go hungry. There is food all over the place. Quality was hit or miss. We never had a horrible meal but there were some dishes we didn't care for. Some of the beef is of lower quality at the free dining options. Lobster on the first day wasn't the best. The buffets are great. There is a great variety of food and everything you would expect on a cruise with carving stations, crepe stations, omelet stations. It gets crowded a lot and there is a lot of hustle and bustle around peak dining times. You will wait for an omelets. I enjoyed the freestyle and not having to dress up in many of the places. The main more formal dining room Manhattan was nice with piano music playing at night. The casual free dining often had many of the same dishes and was a good option. Get to all of the sit down free dining options early and you won't have to wait. The Irish pub is open late with pub fare. Out of the paid dining options we did the Cirque dinner and the Brazilian steakhouse which I found very good. Can't comment on the other paid options as we mostly stuck with the free stuff.
Alcohol is very expensive on this boat as it is most boats and there is no alcohol package. We are drinkers and spend a considerable amount of money on drinking on this trip. Expect $8.50 cocktails and $40 bottles of wine that sell for $15 on land. If you plan on drinking be prepared to spend.
The cruise directors staff does a great job and the head cruise director is a great guy. There is a lot to do on this ship. You will not do everything unless your plan is to attempt to. Aside from your activities list there are LCD screens on the ship showing whats going on. Bring a watch or phone so you dont miss out. We saw the "do you think you can dance" and other activities. There is plenty to do during the day if you wish to do so. They have a very repetitive way of getting the party started and people on the dance floor in almost every music activity. If you are familiar with dance and line dance songs you will hear "Cupid Shuffle" "Gangnam Style" "Cha-Cha Slide" "Wobble Wobble" and "Danza Kuduro" many times during this cruise. If you don't know what these songs are look on youtube. The white party was awesome. If you are not a fan of dance music or loud music in generally I would skip that. Plenty to do.
This is were the Epic shines in my opinion. There are many great options here. Blue Man Group was very good. The Cirque dinner was great and the Living Legends impersonators were also. These are Vegas type shows. If you don't like them in Vegas you wouldn't like them here so I would disregard reviewers on this site about that. From what I read they seemed like a bunch of whiners that wouldn't know a good time if it smacked them in the face. The comedy show was mediocre. Music was all over the ship at any time. If you enjoy music you will be pleased and there is something for everyone. We especially enjoyed the Jazz and Blues club were a top notch Blues and R&B band played every night. These were the best musicians on the ship. I don't care for Howl at the Moon but if that's your cup of tea you would probably enjoy. We were out to 1 or 2 am every night and after midnight the Bliss nightclub is your option. If you like clubs you will enjoy, older folks might be put off.
POOL & OUTSIDE
The pools are small and hot tubs are usually full. This wasn't a big deal for us as we just had to wait a bit. There is an adult area pool which was nice as the area with the water slides is full of running crazy kids. You need to get up early to get a good beach chair, I think this is probably the case on most boats. Activities outside and generally a good time. Gets crowded avoid arriving at peak times and get there early.
We aren't big gamblers. I heard it was one of the biggest casinos at sea. My only compliant is the lack of Texas Hold Em cash games. There was only one table open the whole time. I played a bit of slots. The hardcore gamblers seemed to be enjoying themselves and the slot zombies were there from morning till night. Casino staff is dead serious about handling chips and money as would be expected. If you practice good casino etiquette you will find them pleasant.
About the smoking mentioned in many reviews -
When is a casino not smoky? The whiners on the reviews again are exaggerating the situation. Yes there is a lot of smoking and you will have to walk through the casino to get to many things. Its not going to kill you and if you don't gamble you won't smell it on your clothes. Its the one of the only indoor smoking areas so what do you expect.
PORTS AND EXCURSIONS
If you book excursions with any cruise line you will pay more. The benefit however is getting right off the ship and to your excursion without having to negotiate and listen to the locals pitch their tours.
We did our own thing in St Maarten and took an Island tour which was ok and went to the beach afterwards. St Maarten is a poor island and much of the tour goes through some run down areas. You also see the sights but don't spend much time on the beach on the tour. We went to Maho beach and saw a plane but not a jetliner. The beach on the boardwalk near the ship is decent, we got a bucket of beer and umbrella and relaxed until it was time to go.
We went on a catamaran snorkel and sail and had a good time. Rum punch on the way back and tunes. Swam in a cloud of Yellowtail Snapper and saw a shipwreck. Not tons of fish but a good variety. Scenery is excellent on the way out. We didn't shop here, we generally don't buy Island souvenirs or anything we could buy at home even if it is a little cheaper.
We did the Atlantis resort discovery and beach day. Buy your water outside of Atlantis, its very expensive once inside. The resort is impressive. I enjoyed all of the many aquariums. We skipped the water park as it was a short day and we heard there are a lot of lines. The cove beach for me was beautiful. I'm from Florida and its hard to impress me with a beach but I really liked it there. If you don't want a resort experience go somewhere else.
Overall, this was a great vacation for me and we made plenty of great memories. Do your research and see if this is the cruise for you. Don't be jaded by the negative reviews, if you have some deal breakers and see them mentioned then pick another one. I will cruise with Norwegian again but will pick a smaller boat as this felt crowded. Happy cruising.