Just returned from the 12/1-12/8 Epic Cruise. I have to say that it is a big ship, and I mean big. But with just a little walking around time, the layout made sense and it was relatively easy to get around.
EMBARKATION: Very easy. I got to the port around 11:30, and was on board before 12. Everything seemed very organized. There were two terminals involved to handle the number of passengers. Once on board, I went to Taste for lunch and met some delightful people and had a great Cobb Salad. By the time we finished eating, our rooms were ready.
CABIN: I had a mini-suite on the 14th deck. I know there have been a lot of negatives against these cabins, but mostly mine was good. (Of course, I had a mini-suite to myself which helps a lot.) Bed was comfy. There was loads of storage space, esp. for hanging clothes. Very limited drawer space. The overhead cabinets would be wonderful for folded clothes if one can reach them (which I basically could not - I'm 5'3"). But there were 4 bins inside the lower cabinets, and I used one of those for the undies. I hung everything else, including shorts. But there is plenty of space - you just need to hunt for it! Thanks to people on the CC, I already knew where to find the vanity light (under the medicine cabinet) and to turn off the light on the phone you just hit the "light bulb" icon on the screen. You may want to take a power strip or an extension cord as there are only 2 receptacles in the room, and they are inside a lower cabinet. It took me 4 days (never said I was the brightest bulb) to figure out that the button on the hair dryer would keep the dryer from overheating and shutting off. For the 1st 4 days it took me forever to dry my hair as I had to keep turning it off and letting it cool down. I even had them bring me another dryer! The bathroom facilities -- ah, the bathroom facilities! For me, they were no problem (I was by myself). I can see where they would not suit everyone. Perhaps if the frosty glass was replaced with something solid it would be better. My shower was very large, and although a little ledge for leg-shaving would have been nice, I can't really complain about it. The towels the first 2 days were fine, but starting with the 3rd day they must have opened some new towels because they were wonderful -- big, thick, plus. Really nice.
DINING: Overall, I thought it was very good. I did not eat at the MDR - The Manhattan - so I don't know about it. I did eat at the smaller MDR - Taste and was very pleased with it. I had two dinners there, one Salmon and one Steak & Shrimp and both were more than okay. The salmon was not overcooked at all, and my steak was ordered medium rare and it came medium rare. The Speciality Restaurants I went to were LeBistro, LaCucino & Teppanyaki. All were excellent. LeBistro is under the Spegiel Tent which made it sound as if we were dining under a bowling alley. Not good. But I can't complain about the food. The Garden Buffet was also fine -- good variety of food. The breakfast offerings stayed basically the same, but there were tons of them. Fresh omelets made-to-order is a great way to start the day. Also there were some dynamite pecan rolls that kept appearing on my plate (the devil must have put them there). O'Sheehans also offers pretty good pub fare, and in my opinion has the best dessert on the ship -- the brownie special. My one big negative about the food was the awful coffee. Very, very weak. It didn't even smell like coffee. In fact, it didn't smell like anything. If you wanted a good cup of coffee, you had to pay extra for it. I just gave up and drank tea.
THE SHIP: Big. Really big. Lots of people. But, other than a few times, I never had to wait long for an elevator. The pool areas are rather crowded, but I went to the Spice H2O, which is for adults only, and had no trouble finding a chair, relative quiet and a nice place to sit in the sun or the shade. There was a small pool there, but it was mainly used to just jump in, cool down, and get back out. The main pool didn't seem to be overly crowded, and I am not sure that I ever saw more than one or two in the toddler's pool. I felt that there was much more "rockin' and rollin'" with this ship. The first two sea days we did have wind at 40 knots, and many people had trouble with sea sickness. But even when we did not have rough seas, the movement of the ship was still very noticeable. I am not sure of the reason - some thought it was because the ship is top heavy, but I don't know. The Casino -- even though I came out a winner money wise, it was probably my least favorite NCL Casino. I like to play video poker, and there were very few of those machine. There were several at the bar, but again with my short arms, it was not comfortable to play there. The other ones were wedged in tightly in the smoking areas. The smoking is a big problem in my opinion. I didn't notice the smoke too much when I was just walking through the casino, but it was not good when I was trying to play there. My clothes came home smelling of smoke. Other ship casino's have smoking, but it doesn't seem to be as bad as this one.
ENTERTAINMENT: Wonderful, great, terrific. Saw Blue Man Group and also Second City. Both good. But what I really enjoyed was Howl at the Moon, esp. Rome, and also listening to Jeff Spence at the piano at Shakers. Both excellent. Slam Allen is also worth going to see.
SERVICE. Although all the crew I ran into seemed pleasant and helpful, they did not seem as happy to be there as I remember past NCL crews to be. I think the problem with service is that the staff is overwhelmed. Perhaps there is not enough staff to take care of that number of guests. This could explain the delay that some experience in getting food in the MDR, and the length of time it took to get some things taken care of. I really missed the big smiles on the crew's faces and believe it or not, I even missed "washy-washy" (although I may be the only one who did!). For a ship this size, I do think they needed additional crew.
Cruise Critic Roll-Call Group. Fantastic! We had such fun, and they helped to make my cruise a great one. We had formal and informal Meet & Greets, a Slot Pull, planned dinners together. It was terrific, and I hope more will take advantage of a great thing.
All-in-all, a great cruise. Would I do the Epic again - maybe not. I think I still prefer the smaller NCL ships. But if I had children I would certainly do it again as there is so much for them to do.