We arrived in Miami and stayed at the Doubletree Biscayne Bay. It's a short cab ride to the pier. We had a water view and were given an upgrade due to Hilton Club status. The walk to Bayside Centre was perfect for an early morning stretch.
Embarkation in Miami was very easy at 12:30. Their dockworkers are efficient and their cabs know they have to stick to the rules. With five boats in that day, the port didn't seem overwhelmed. We liked the fore and aft embarkation on the Epic. It went smoothly, although we noted the Latitude lines were just as long as the regular lines.
Our cabin was ready and our luggage arrived by 2:30. I find that to be a major stress factor on embarkation day and so appreciated the fast service. We bought a mid-range 6 bottle wine package. We found the sommelier selling them to be helpful. She asked what we'd likely be eating and had two good suggestions for wines we hadn't tried.
We quickly found a quiet spot on 15 Aft at the Spice H20 Bar on the first day. This area is adults only and I highly recommend it. There is a separate pool, two hot tubs, lots of deck chairs and good service. It is also less windy than other parts of the ship. The pool is maybe 12 x 12 and 5 feet deep, so it was fun to cool off and tread water with other adults and chat. We quickly made friends with our waiter, Joe from Goa, who said the weather had not been great so far in December and his tips were way down because it was so quiet. However, we lucked out with warm sunny days all the way through to Nassau. My only negative about this area is that they show a lot of the same European scenery on the giant screen TV. I would have far preferred, at least on port days, shots from the bridge cam.
We usually eat all of our dinners in the up-charge restaurants. Le Bistro was absolutely fabulous. The Coq au Vin was so good we went twice and had the same meal. Best Le Bistro in the fleet! Cagneys, La Cucina, and the teppanyaki grill were all good as well. Taste, one of the standard dining rooms was also good. However, the big surprise was the Manhattan dining room. On previous cruises on NCL I've found the main dining rooms to be chaos, with people noisily coming and going and the food to be hit and miss. Manhattan was better managed and the food was excellent. It had more of the "hush" you want in a fine dining room and we loved it. My only complaint was the coffee bar on 5. They seemed to be understaffed and quite often, officers from the ship ordered and made the service even slower. They would be wise to add a couple of small high end coffee kiosks in other parts of the ship. Service in every other food venue was very good - once again a huge improvement over other NCL cruises.
Our cabin steward was very good - towel animals almost every night. Our sleep was disturbed twice by "emergency" announcements at 3:00 a.m. that went over the general loudspeakers in our cabins and were likely just pages for facilities staff. We received no apologies for this, which I found strange.
For entertainment, Second City was hilarious, and Legends almost painful. The singers were okay, but five songs from Jimmy Buffett and five from Donna Summer do not an evening of "Legends" make. Also, "Whoopi's" joke delivery was horrible. Other live music around the ship was good.
We found it difficult to find a quiet night-time drinks venue. We love to sit quietly and watch the sea and have a drink before dinner. The only place we found that had that feeling was the bar in the foyer of Cagney's, and although we waited for quite a while, got no service. We'd end up going to H20 in the evening to have a drink outside.
No complaints from me about the casino. We usually plan to lose about $20 a night each and consider anything else a bonus. Second from last night we both hit it big.
Now the cons - This is really a floating hotel. Other than on 15, I didn't feel the same connection to the sea that I've felt on other cruises. There are few public areas with accessible windows to the outside, for example. Oh, and the split bathroom arrangement. I need more privacy. However, the shower was much larger than I've had on similar sized cabins.
My other complaint is the spa/workout space. I like quiet when I have a spa treatment. The main spa reception is a pass-through for those going to the workout facility and the change rooms are shared as well. I liked the treatments (just got the $89 sampler and it was good value) but didn't feel pampered and cossetted. On the other hand, because anyone can walk in and use most of the facility, I highly recommend the bathrooms in the change area. If you are on the pool deck and want a nice bathroom, just walk down and wander in.
We probably won't cruise the Epic again because I like more of an at-sea cruise feeling but if I had younger kids, especially teens, I'd go in a minute. Families around us all loved the ship and the variety of activities.