We have just returned from our Epic adventure and I'd like to share my thoughts with you. And I want to say this now; I am not sure any other cruise could measure up to the Epic.
EMBARKATION: Went very smoothly. We arrived at the port early so we had to wait to get in. The security process went smoothly and we were directed to the waiting lounge. Once it was time to board the ship, groups were called to do so. It really did go smoothly and we were warmly welcomed aboard.
THE SHIP: What a beautiful ship the Epic is. Very clean and sparkling. It was very easy to get around this ship. The signage was clear and always there when you needed it. Only once did I feel like there were too many people on board. This was right after the muster drill. While our muster station was on deck 7, there are also stations on 6. Try to get in an elevator going up was impossible. Tip: Get on the elevator going down and stay on until it goes up to your floor.
THE CABIN: We booked a spa mini-suite. This cabin comes with access to the spa area. It's a wonderful thing! The cabin had plenty of storage and closet space. The light over the sink and the light over the desk area could be a little brighter, but was sufficient. Putting on makeup and doing my hair proved to be a little daunting, but once I figured out to use the mirror next to the balcony door, all was well. The bed is huge. I'm sure it must be larger than a queen-size they advertise. It was a little too firm for my taste, but still very comfortable. Switches on either side of the bed allowed lights to be turned off and on. There is a little reading light next to the bed. The storage in the cabin couldn't be any better. 3 closets (1 with a light) and lots of cabinet space. There is even storage behind and above the couch. The TV was nice although several times the volume went really loud and we had to turn it down. Nothing to complain about there, it happens anywhere. The bathroom area was fine. You could put a whole family in the shower at one time and still have room. It is by far the best shower I have experienced on a cruise ship. Being in the spa area, they also included sample bottle of the shampoo, conditioner and body wash used in the spa. It was a nice touch. There is the curtain that separates the bathroom area and the cabin. Even with the curtain closed, there is plenty of room to get dressed and not bump in to the walls. The toilet area was fine too.
THE CABIN STEWARD: Kenneth was great! We didn't seem him at all the first two days, but he had been there turning down the bed, replacing towels, and emptying the garbage. There was no bathmat to walk out of the shower to, so we put a towel on the floor. It took a couple of days of this before we got an actual bathmat. We got our nightly towel animals and they were cute. We did need our ashtrays emptied a few times and it wasn't done. I used paper/plastic bags to empty them myself.
THE SPA: The spa area was fantastic. This spa is known as the largest at sea. If you plan on using the spa at all, take the tour they give you on the first day. Through the locker rooms are co-ed saunas, a steam room, thermal loungers and a hydrotherapy pool. What a way to relax on vacation! Between the two of us we managed 4 massages, 1 facial, 1 head massage and a hair wash and blow dry (these all cost extra). If you don't have a spa suite or mini-suite, you can purchase time to get in to the spa. The spa staff was wonderful and very knowledgeable.
THE FOOD/DINING: Starting at the top of the ship... The Garden Cafe Buffet. We had breakfast here a couple times. Plenty of options, plenty of room to sit. Food was great for a buffet. The main dining room we went to was Taste. We liked the idea of a more casual atmosphere than the Manhattan Room. In NCL's 'rules' about dining, it says men should wear this or that and women can wear this or that. We didn't find this to be the case at all. We wore shorts anytime we dined there -- breakfast, lunch and even dinner. NCL also says flip-flops are not permitted in the dining rooms... I wore a sandal-type flat flip-flop every time and nothing was ever said. (This was our experience and by no means should you take this as permission.) The food was good, the service -- not so good. We had to keep asking for drinks to be refilled, the butter and creamers to be replaced. The staff was pleasant and knowledgeable about the food, they just need to pay a little more attention to the smaller things. The main dining room also has a steak on their lunch menu. Past experience led me to order my steak one temperature lower (rare) than normal to get what I actually wanted (medium-rare).
We had lunch at O'Sheehan's a couple of times. The corned beef on rye sandwich was quite good, the meatloaf and mashed potatoes were good as well. Also the fish & chips were tasty. I did not order the mushy peas, so I couldn't tell you how that was. Again, the staff should pay more attention to the table.
Of the restaurants with services charges/paying restaurants, we dined at Moderno and Cagney's. Moderno is a churrascaria serving meats cut right at the table. A carnivore's delight! Having dined at Moderno on the Sun, we knew what to expect. We went after the BMG show and it was very late -- 9ish -- when we got there. I don't know if it was because we arrived later or what, but it wasn't up to par with what we had last year. It was very good, don't get me wrong, but it just lacked something. It could also be that we have tried our local churrascaria and it is the best.
At Cagney's, we had the best meal ever. They truly know how to cook a steak. The temperatures of the steak are spot-on. I ordered the lobster tail (additional $8 above the restaurant cost), but it was a little tough -- like overcooked tough. Once the staff caught on to our beverage refill needs, we no longer had to ask for refills.
Somewhere on the Epic is a crepe station. We never found it... Wish we would have.
BAR SERVICE: Always prompt, always courteous. The bar staff in Headliners was THE BEST!!! Signal for another drink and there they are with it. Yes, we did get a little drunk a few times in there. The entertainment was great!
ENTERTAINMENT: BLUE MAN GROUP is show NOT to miss. We are probably the last people on earth to have never seen their show before, but it was worth the wait. What a performance. Get to the show early and it's a good idea to have reservations for this. They also serve a drink in there called the Blue Experience. It is worth the experience! Complete with a marshmallow dipped in blue sugar on top. I wish now that I had seen them twice.
The other two shows we caught were LEGENDS and 2ND CITY. They were ok -- nothing spectacular but not disappointing either. I think with Legends I was expecting more than 2 entertainers. 2nd City did an improv on the night we were there. It was good.
The best entertainment we had was at HOWL AT THE MOON! What a great time it was. I went twice and the BF went to all 4 shows. Again, this was in Headliners and the bar staff was right on top of our beverage needs. The entertainers couldn't be any better than they were. Three piano players rotating for short breaks didn't leave a dull moment. A couple of times the guys from BMG sat In with the players and sang or played the drums. Don't miss this show. You won't regret it.
CUSTOMER SERVICE: No complaints whatsoever. They were prompt and met our needs with a friendly smile.
PORTS OF CALL: St. Maarten, St. Thomas and Nassau. We didn't take any excursions or planned activities through NCL or otherwise. We did some shopping. Getting off and on the ship was easy. In Nassau they do have a shuttle that takes you to a drop-off point closer to the action. You can also take this back to the ship. The service is free, but the driver does ask for a tip. I wish they had something of the same for the other ports, as it is a bit of a walk to the shops.
St. Maarten and St. Thomas were my favorites as they are beautiful islands.
DISEMBARKATION: Smooth! We did the 'carry off your own luggage' thing. They open the doors to let you off at 7:15. If you don't mind standing and waiting, this wasn't a problem, but get there somewhat earlier to get near the front of the line. We were wrapped around the bar at the elevators when we got there at about 7:10, and the line got longer quickly. Once the doors were open, and we were let go, the line moved quickly. Through customs/border patrol and waiting for a taxi probably took 10 minutes. Kudos to NCL for having this organized so neatly. The cabin steward leaves customs forms in your room for you. Use them. If not, there are forms waiting for you on the way through.
All in all we found our cruise to be great. Not everything was perfect, but you make your vacation what you make it. We will definitely sail with NCL again -- in fact we have already booked our next cruise for a year from now!