First a little background. Traveling were my Sister (early 40's), Myself (single mother late 40's) and my 9 y/o son. We are very experienced cruisers. Platinum (20+ cruises) status with NCL, also many cruises on Carnival, RCCL, Princess and other smaller lines. My son has cruised NCL 10 times. This was the 3rd time on the the Epic for my Son and I. All this is for a point of reference.
I felt the Epic's version of the "NEW" Splash Academy Kids Program was very disjointed and unorganized. I was recently on the STAR this past Summer with the New Splash Academy Program and it was incredible! So much so, I had to argue with my kid many a time when I would sign him out. Upon boarding, we went almost directly to kids club for the sign up. Got our Kids Daily for the Week, proceeded to Lunch in Taste. It's a nice relaxing way to begin the cruise and review the day and week ahead. Sometime shortly after lunch, i noticed in bold print CLOSING times for the Splash Academy (kids club). I was floored, never since I've been cruising with my son have I seen a closing during the day for the kids club on any NCL ship. I remember falling in love with the freestyle concept around 2005 or 2006 on NCL. I had cruised with my Son on Carnival and they closed at various times throughout the day and I enjoyed NCL and the ability for us to plan all the family and adult only activities and not worry about times. We new the kids club would be always open between about 9am-10:30pm. This always allowed up the opportunity to do various adult only activities as well as family activities depending on what was going on for the day.
I have to adamently say, I have NEVER, nor would I EVER leave my child in any cruise kids program from opening to closing. I almost can't believe this happens, but that is what Matt the Cruise Director onboard the Epic told me. I also discussed this with the Kids Club Manager as well. According to them, a number of kids were continually left all day and never fed during the sea days. My thoughts is, this may happen one time and then that family would not be allowed to place their kids in the program the rest of the cruise. Problem solved. Instead, The Epic cruise staff decided to implement this new closing procedure and penalize me, my family and other wonderful families for other peoples lack of parenting skills.
I did ask if this was a new program, a temporary program, or a one time deal since there were over 1200 kids on this sailing. No one really knew the answer to this question, or at least they would not admit to knowing an answer. The Cruise director said abuse by parents over the last couple weeks caused the changes beginning Thanksgiving. Come to find out, this was an outright lie to me by the cruise director as I have found out that the kids club did the closing also the week prior to Thanksgiving. The Kids manager said similar but made it seem that they had been doing this for a time now. Another kids club person I think she was an assistant manager (not sure of the actual titles), said that this was new and it is going Fleet wide. She had also indicated corporate bigwigs had The kids club crew members come shoreside to tell them about these new changes. She also stated that not a single corporate person in the shoreside meeting had a child or children in the age ranges 9 and under that would be affected by such changes.
Oh, another thing I asked, why not institute something where parents can pay to have the kids taken to lunch and dinner. The response I was given was "well, with allergies and food sensitivities, we can't feed the kids" Wrong, look at the NCL Website and the NON Sea Days. They will feed your kids for a fee. It is written in print on the kids dailies. If a child has these food allergies during sea days, wouldn't they have them during Port days also. You can even leave your child on the ship while you gallivant in a foreign country. What will be done with your child, if you don't make it back to the ship? Please don't tell me that a Parent must stay on the ship as I met a couple families that left their kids onboard while they went shopping.
As I stated earlier, I noticed this closure almost immediately the first day. So early in the evening I went by the boxoffice, thinking, hey, I can move my Cirque Dreams Dinner to 5:45 on a Sea Day instead of the Port Day I had scheduled at the 45 day mark, like a good Epic planning cruiser. This was a no go. No seating available for any of those shows on Sea Days. So much for planning ahead. I also had to cancel an Ice Bar reservation we had made for 5:30 one evening. I know, kids are allowed in Ice Bar, but we had planned CC events and we were going to have a group of us meet at that particular time. Also, I just didn't think it appropriate to take a 9 y/o to the ice bar. Just my thoughts, others may and that is fine with me. Finally I was unable to do the Murder Mystery Lunch, again, kids are ok, but I know it is not something my 9 y/o would enjoy. Playing with kids his own age and getting face painted are much more his speed. We also had to modify our specialty dining and cancel one. My son is a great traveler and will sit through a 2 hour dinner, but to be fair, he would rather eat quick and play. One or 2 nice dinners in a week long cruise is good for him.
One might think that since the kids club was closed for 4 hours, maybe they would do a couple of the family activities during a portion of this time. Absolutely not. Family activities like cupcake making, pizza making, dodgeball, slimetime are not offered during these closing times. It is like the kids don't exist on this ship during those hours on sea days. On past cruises, the Slime Time Live show in the Epic Theater was always held at 1pm, but oh my, that would be during the kids club closing time, so lets push it to 2pm, so now families must make a choice between the club or the show. It seems as if they have this wonderful kids facility, but don't want the kids in it to enjoy. Now Of course we chose the Slime Time Live show. I don't think any kid was actually in the club, they were all at the show. I really have no idea why family activities could not be scheduled during these "closed" times. I think it comes down to throwing together a new type of kids schedule at the very last minute and not thinking it through. Boy did that show.
One final thing. The New Kids Program has been described with great detail on the NCL Website as having all this circus training, magic training, etc. Not looking at the description while I write this, but we did experience all the great new Circus Stuff on the Star in July. Well, the major theme of the new Kids Club was cancelled on this cruising of the Epic. Kids generally learn lots of circus activities and then put on a Circus Show. According to my son, they never did any of the Circus stuff. A few of the props were available about 30-45 minutes during freeplay one day. Quite sad, as this was a highlight of the program we experienced in the summer and my son was looking forward to performing in the Circus for his Aunt and I.
Parents taking kids on Epic, plan Cirque Dinner Show for a Sea Day at 5:45. Remember, parents you will not be able to have private no kid dinners in a specialty dinning venue or MDR between 5-7 on Sea Days. Please plan accordingly and not get caught off guard as I was.
Overall, I thought the cruise was OK. I was taught early in life, "you make your own fun!" Of the 3 times on the Epic, this trip would rate 3rd. It may not deter me from the 20+ days I have scheduled on the Epic next October for our Med Cruise and the TA. But the only reason it wouldn't is because my son will be 10 and able to sign himself in and out of kids club. If he were still in the age category of 9 and under, I would definitely cancel the Epic. This comment is only because of changes in the Kids Program that I feel are a very negative impact on the Norwegian Freestyle Concept.
Embarkation was smooth and simple. My sister stayed in a studio and my son and I had balcony 10279. My son was given a Pink key card upon checkin, so once on board we headed to the customer service desk. My 9 y/o wanted a non girl color card and the service desk was very accommodating and helpful in the request. The people at this desk were always helpful and smiling each time we had to ask for something. No complaints here. My son lost his keycard about midway through the week. It was on a lanyard and one minute it was around his neck, the next it was gone. They gladly gave him a new one and replaced the Soda sticker with no problem. Other things the desk helped with was in the need for some paper to write a note, band aids and an occasional printing of our account
Dinner - We ate at La Cucina the first night. Thought it was nice. A little better on the Star this past summer.
Le Bistro we had on the last night. It was absolutely awesome.
Thanksgiving Dinner we enjoyed with some new CC friends in the Manhattan dining room. It was nice and our service was ok. I have to admit the evening was hectic. We did get all our food orders correct, but getting anything other than water was virtually impossible, especially if it didn't include a bar tab. In other words if you asked for Tea or a Soda via the soda card, it either didn't come or took almost 30 minutes. I know a lot of this has to do with the pure volume of people wanting Thanksgiving dinner and very few people going to specialty restaurants.
Cirque Dreams Dinner was also quite good IMHO.
We also ate in Garden Cafe. Always wonderful choices and the crepes were great!
OSheehan's was also a great choice for us. Good old fashioned pub type food. Sometimes fancy and glitzy are not necessary and fried and greasy is just fine.
BMG -- always a fun show, especially through the eyes of a 9 y/o boy
Cirque -- again a wonderful show. I still hurt thinking of the acrobatic positions and laugh at all the antics.
Ledgends -- pretty good. Michael Jackson was exceptional, Jimmy Buffet and Donna Summer were above average. Enjoyable show
Dualing Piano's -- They were entertaining. I've only ever seen the show on the Epic, so I can't compare to land based. My sister commented that she has actually seen where the piano players Dual, versus just play requests.
Personally, I thought prior pianists/singers on my other 2 Epic cruises were better.
Slam Allen -- Only saw a few songs. Not really a fan of the music type.
Parties: White Hot party, always a blast! ABBA was pretty good. Enjoyed the Journey Concert on the big screen outside at Spice, missed the 80's party.
Football was fun on the huge screen at OSheehan's.
Movies played on this screen most afternoons. It would have been nice if they had been a bit more child friendly. This was Thanksgiving with over 1200 kids onboard. A couple were PG 13. JMHO. Also volume seemed to be an issue with movies (too low), but never an issue with football (loud).
Deal or No Deal was fun the one time we participated. Didn't do bingo.
Believe it or not, with all this that we did and I have listed, there were a couple times where we were looking for something to do. Mostly because we didn't want to gamble, be in the sun or hang out at a bar. These down times for us seemed to happen between 5-9 pm a couple days. Yes we fit dinner in here, but on the Sea Days, we were basically dictated by the "Newly" Implemented Kids Program which closed from 12-2pm and 5-7pm each day, to take my son to eat dinner between 5-7 so that he could attend the kids club at 7pm for the evening activities that he loved. A 9 y/o likes to grab a quick meal(30minutes or less) in the buffet versus sit down for 2 hours every night.
If you made it this far, Thank you for reading!