My wife and I are in our mid-sixties and have been on 24 cruises. We very much like the NCL Free Style cruising concept. We took the NCL Jade in February to the Canary Islands and loved it. It's nice not having to bring a jacket and tie. We very much wanted to do the Epic, the 3rd largest ship at sea (for now). It did not disappoint us, and lived up to its name. 21 restaurants, 19 bars, so little time!
The boarding process was seamless, considering the amount of people they had to board. Very organized with two boarding points.
The cabin was a mini-suite. I can understand why some people may not like the shower/commode/sink placement, but it didn't bother us. The cabin was spotless, and the in-room TV met our needs with one movie channel, a TV show channel, news, and ship information, including access to your account and dining reservations. There is plenty of room for storage. My only complaint is that the bathtub in the mini-suite is very dangerous as it is so slippery. There are hand-rails, but I almost took a few nose dives getting out. I suggest that they put in some no slip strips, or provide a bath mat.
Dining was good. Do go to the main dining rooms Manhattan and Touch on the first night, as it is the only night they serve lobster without an up charge. Cagney's Steak House and Le Bistro French Restaurant were superb and worth the extra charges. The Tepanyaki restaurant was fun, with one of the most talented chef's I have ever seen. I did not think that the food was better than our hometown Japanese Steakhouse, but my wife thought it was delicious. We ate at the poolside and Garden Buffet, and they were fine.
Entertainment was outstanding. We never saw the Blue Man Group before and did not know what to expect, but it made us laugh. It was fun. (Do not sit in the first 2 rows, you might get wet!) The dueling pianos at the Howl at the Moon nightclub was one of our favorites. The Jazz/Blues club was also very entertaining. The one show that surprised me was the Cirque Dreams show, which is $25-$35 extra, with a meal included. The meal was pretty good. I don't usually like circus acts, but was extremely delighted with the performers who were quite good. There were island bands almost everyday on the swim-pool deck. Daily trivia was fun. The White Party on the aft top deck was a lot of fun, even for comparatively old geeks like us. The music rocked and everybody was having a good time. Do not confuse the White Party you see when getting off the elevators. That is the children's party. Go past that to the aft.
Bars -we do like to imbibe a bit on our cruise vacations. There is no way around it, liquor is expensive on cruises. NCL Epic offered a new plan, unlimited liquor for $49 a day per person plus 15% service charge. Your cabin mate is required to buy one too if you opt for this plan. Our traveling companions forked over more than $750 for this option. It sounded good at first. Call drinks can run close to $10 a piece, so if they had just 5-6 drinks a day, it would pay for itself. They realized at the end they couldn't really drink that much, and said they would probably not do it again. We had the 4 bottle wine package which was fine for our needs. I bought the $54 Pepsi package, which I would have been better off not buying it. The Irish Bar is open 24 hours, and you can always get food, but the service was spotty. The Ice Bar was a lot of fun. $20, including 2 Svedka vodka drinks. It was just plain fun, and gave us bragging rights about drinking in a below 17 degree bar. Our friends lasted 15 minutes and we made it to 25. I do not know how the people who had on shorts and sandals made it for 35 minutes, but they did. (Maybe an extra vodka warmed them up!) Even though we discovered it with only 3 days left on the ship, we think that The Malting bar was the best on the ship. Great, fun bar staff. They have a two for one happy hour everyday between 4 and 6 which was very popular. The adjoining bar had a Martini tasting demonstration. We did not attend, but it sure looked they the participants were having a ball!
For smokers, there is a cigar, pipe and cigarette humidor room just off these two bars. We don't smoke, but our friends do, and it wasn't too bad in there, with fairly good air recirculation.
The casino. I made my usual contribution. Can't win. Very large room. Not much personality shown by the casino staff. I think that to them, we were just another group of meaningless faces. I did not experience that on the Jade or other NCL ships we were on.
We did not buy anything in the shops. It irks me that they create bottle necks selling their $10 watches on the tables they place in the hallways. My feeling is that the art auctions are a rip off, but I know other people like them.
Which brings me to my conclusion. If I had my preference, I would like drinks, tips, and all meals provided without up charges. I would like the auctions and constant selling to go away.
The only reason I am rating this ship 4 stars instead of 5 is the general sense that some of the staff could care less about their customers. We were ignored at 3 venues while the staff had their conversations. We just got up and walked away. The dining room staff tries really hard, but they seem to be short-handed. On other cruise lines you get the waiter, matre'd and assistant waiters. The staff tries hard, but they don't deliver. NCL may want to look at this closely. I dropped a note in the feedback box for the hotel manager of the ship. The assistant director got back to me and agreed that there were areas for improvement. I was impressed that they responded.
In closing, I think the NCL Epic is a great value for the price. If I wanted perfection, I could have paid a premium for an all inclusive ship. At the fares charged by NCL, I don't think you can get more bang for you buck anywhere else. I think that the sheer size of the ship contributes to the mistakes that fall through the cracks. With responsive management, I think even the annoying things will become more bearable. Would I go on the NCL Epic again? You bet! But I think we will downsize to a smaller NCL ship before we rebook NCL Epic again. Or, we may go on the Breakaway that will debut this Spring out of New York.