First Impressions Taut with expectancy, we boarded Norwegian Epic. The boarding process was quick and efficient even with 4,500 guests. We walked up the gangway, eagerly anticipating the magnificence of an Epic atrium. As we boarded, we were immediately herded up the stairs to the buffet. But where was the "Wow"? Every ship I have been on has had a "Wow" factor, especially Voyager of the Seas which gained a "Wow" each and every time we boarded. Even little old Sovereign of the Seas had a "Wow." We were sorely disappointed. Even when exploring after lunch, we were not overly impressed with the ship. The decor was tasteful but not as glamorous as I had expected. Overall, it's a very nice ship and there was not much I would specifically comment on (unlike the atrocity that is Carnival Splendor!) but I just wasn't wowed.
There was an atrium of sorts, where decks 5 and 6 were open to 7. Almost the whole of deck 6 was a casino but I liked how spaced out it was instead of being cramped into a smokey area, together with the Epic Theater and Spiegel Tent. Make sure to visit the Box Office as they were able to accommodate us to shows that we couldn't book online. I think they must keep some seats open for people who didn't get their entertainment organized ahead of time. Shops were on 7, the typical cruise fare including some reasonable souvenirs and clothing. Deck 5 had a giant tv screen used for Wii, Spa presentations, Meet & Greets and even the Undercover Boss episode featuring CEO Kevin Sheehan. A nearby coffee shop had specialty coffees and hot chocolate, as well as complimentary tea and coffee. There is also the photo area with computer terminals holding photos of the cabin members, plus ring binders for each cabin. They must have excellent facial recognition software because even our Spongebob Meet and Greet photos showed up in there without us admitting who we were.
I had originally booked a balcony cabin on 11 but called to upgrade to a large balcony a few weeks before the cruise. I didn't have to pay for the upgrade but once I arrived in the cabin, I realized what a mistake I had made. Instead of a beautiful ocean view when sitting on the balcony, I found myself in a metal box with an opening. You could only see the ocean when standing. Also, there is no benefit to a large balcony if only two chairs are provided. Needless to say, we didn't spend our usual hours reading on the balcony this time.
The wave-walls of the cabin allowed for a very narrow walkway through the cabin, but enough space for one person to navigate. The biggest issue was the curtain-enclosed bathroom since no-one could come or go while another person was using the bathroom. You had to ensure the door was locked from the inside so that people didn't walk in on you since the toilet and shower doors were frosted glass. I've been married almost 25 years but I still prefer a little more privacy that that!
There was enough storage although one of the "wardrobes" had no hangers so just became a cupboard where I stacked everything up. The decor was pleasant but not memorable.
My mother- and brother-in-law had studio cabins. These were compact but very functional. They were very happy with them once they discovered how to switch off the neon lighting. Being in a studio gave them access to the singles lounge which had coffee, cereal, sandwiches etc in a fridge. When commenting on the variety of towel animals we had found in our cabin, we discovered that for the first few days, their towel animal had simply been moved around the cabin until it eventually fell to pieces. Only then did they receive a different animal.
Pool Areas/Water Slides
It took us almost all of the week to discover a very quiet deck area at the front of the ship, above the Posh and Spa cabins. The alternatives had been a few nooks and crannies we found above Spice H2O. The pools were small, especially the one in the Spice H2O section where there was definitely no room for swimming. The slides were good fun and the lines not too long, although it seemed to be mostly adults in line. The main pool area was a madhouse, especially where food was being served. We stayed in the area for as short a time as possible.
We didn't have any kids with us so didn't participate in the Nickelodeon breakfast or Slimetime Live! events but we did come across Spongebob and Patrick a couple of times for Meet & Greet opportunities. That made a grown man very happy!
This is definitely worth the $25 or $35 cover charge. We had bought standard seating thinking that we would be able to sit in the balcony, only to find they had changed their policy and that was now considered premium seating. Even seated in the booths on the main floor, I think we had at least as good a view, if not better, than some of the folks in the premium floor seating area. The booths were raised about six inches off the floor allowing us to see over the heads of the premium guests, although when the performers were high in the air, there were times we could only see their legs. But then there was so much going on, there was usually something else to focus on. Cirque acts included jugglers, acrobats, strongmen, trapeze, illusions... the performance was, at times, a veritable Mad Hatter's Tea Party!
Dinner was a fixed three-course menu including Surf and Turf and a small dessert selection. The beef was excellent and the rest was pretty good. All in all, I would definitely recommend this.
Blue Man Group
Having booked our BMG tickets early in the week, we were getting withdrawal symptoms and managed to get into a second show by waiting for standby seating. Second time around, it was just as good as the first! This is an excellent quality show for the whole family. After the second show, we waited for the Blue Men to get our photos taken and we weren't disappointed. Apparently there is usually a ship's photographer there, but not on the last night, so bring your own camera. Watch out for the Q&A session, "Men Behind the Blue" when you will see them out of costume and answering questions from the audience. It was very interesting to hear about behind the scenes, auditioning and the training involved to become a Blue Man.
When I saw the Legends show advertised, I expected to see stars like Michael Jackson, Elvis, or maybe Madonna. Even the website mentions Lady Gaga and Steven Tyler. So imagine the disappointment when the "Legends" were Whoopi Goldberg, Donna Summer and Jimmy Buffett. I know we weren't the only people shaking our heads. Several people we talked to were also surprised that there weren't more than two performers (Whoopi and Donna Summer were the same singer), but many people don't even know who Jimmy Buffett is.
There were several different Second City shows available and I think perhaps the "Improv" show might have been better. There were some funny skits revolving around being on a cruise ship but I didn't enjoy this as much as I expected. We have seen Second City before on the Norwegian Spirit and really enjoyed it so it probably depends on the comedians.
I purchased the $50 for $25 offer from www.slotplaycoupons.com although you could also get a $20 for $10 offer from NCL. The $50 is loaded onto a card to play in the machines, but as soon as it is transferred to the machine, you could cash out, effectively "winning" $25 immediately. However, I played my $50 over several nights. I am convinced that the machines are set to be generous at the beginning of the cruise and less so as time goes on. I didn't replay any winnings I cashed out, and actually ended up coming home with $60 so I was pretty happy, but then I'm happy if I can break even! My conclusion is that I am definitely addicted to Kitty Glitter.
I can only comment on the complimentary restaurants as we are not foodies and prefer to keep our onboard account at a minimum, so the buffet is usually good enough for us. We ventured to the buffet for most meals where there was a good variety of food. I particularly enjoyed the pasta station where your choice of pasta, sauce and extras (mushrooms, chicken, sausage, veggies) are cooked to order. The dessert station mainly comprised of small mousse-type desserts or pies, but also had ice cream in many flavors. Also, the ice cream machine was nearby with a variety of toppings available.
O'Sheehan's is an Irish-style pub and I was thoroughly looking forward to fish and chips with mushy peas. Unfortunately it didn't meet my expectations as the batter was much too thick and not crispy, the fries were too thin, and the peas... oh the peas.... Let me clarify, mushy peas are basically mushed up marrowfat peas, not usually available in the US, so I was surprised to see them on the menu. But we had mushy peas on Pride of America in Hawaii, so I was hopeful. Unfortunately these were blended sweet peas, not marrowfat... yuck!
We gave O'Sheehan's another chance and I had the pot pie which was excellent. We also ate breakfast there one day since they had corned beef hash on the menu, but it was more of a chopped potato and ham so didn't pass the test for my husband.
We also ate at The Manhattan Room and Taste. Both were nice restaurants and the meals were good. In the Manhattan Room I had some beef empanadas, rosemary chicken and some cheesecake. I don't think it was a baked cheesecake but pretty good all the same. At Taste, I had a Portobello mushroom with goats' cheese, a NY strip steak (I needed ketchup but couldn't find a server) and a raspberry sherbet for dessert. Overall, nice meals, but we found the buffet to have more variety and so everyone was happy.
Although I thought we got off to a rocky start, this was a great cruise. The ship felt generally crowded but we found some quieter areas and definitely enjoyed both the entertainment and the Freestyle dining aspects. It was definitely worth what we paid for it, although I admit we have reconsidered our Inaugural Breakaway cruise because we were less impressed with Epic and don't want to pay more than twice as much and be disappointed. We will wait for the reviews and maybe consider Getaway next year.