For Christmas my family and I decided to take a 7 day cruise...I was the only first time cruiser in the group. My parents cruise at least 2 times a year. This however was their, and obviously my, first time experiencing NCL and NCL Epic. I had spent a month prior to our trip getting acquainted with the layout of the ship, reading reviews and Q&A from prior cruisers.
Embarkation day: we fly to Miami, grab a cab and head for the ship. At the port, we are met by a guy that obviously is in partnership with the cab driver...he starts unloading our luggage and will not allow us to touch/handle our luggage and then demands a tip. Of course we tip him b/c he now has our luggage hostage...I tried to grab a piece of my luggage and the cab driver literally slapped my hand and said "NO". (I had read the day b4 we left home a cruiser's review on NCL FB page from a earlier cruise commenting on the same issue.)
Check-In: went somewhat smooth. From my perspective once we got on the ship it was like being herded by people that don't know how to herd cattle, mass chaos, definitely short on staff and/or a lack of NCL/NCL Epic knowledge of processes, packages (e.g. beverage, etc.) in the customer service arena. The left hand did not know what the right hand was doing or suppose to do.
We attended the Mandatory Safety meeting, the presenters, staff, were very unprofessional, unfriendly and unkept. Alarming to me! As the cruise progressed, the staff never went beyond the call of duty, they were cordial but not nearly what I would expect. (I have gotten better customer service at a Motel 6...and cleaner amenities.)
Cleanliness: (I have pics to prove) There was mold growing in the corners in the hallways, the air filter in our stateroom was disgusting, the light switches were filty, long dark hairs on the balcony floors, walls, inside the rooms (my family...we are all blondes.). I could see long hairs hanging off chairs at the Garden Cafe. The utensils, etc at the Garden Cafe by the 4th day on the ship were less and less clean. Room service trays/dishes would pile up in the hallways throughout the day causing the stinch in the hallways to become overwhelming. The smoke smell from the Casino was in the Epic Theatre, in the staterooms. Not to mention at nights, the passengers were forced to go through the casino to get to the lower floors because the stairways/elevators were closed to the 6th and 5th floor so you had to take the escalator located in the casino area...most of the entertainment venues were on 6th floor and the atrium was on the 5th floor. No passenger should be forced to go through the smoking area! Which leads me into design:
Design: Whoever designed the staterooms on the Epic and the keycard to have lights in the stateroom really should find a new profession. I would like to think most passengers are not exhibitionists even with their immediate family. The shower, toilet set up behind a curtain at the door entering the stateroom, who thought this up. The pull out bed was the couch that literally was smaller than a twin, curved and hard as a rock. In our room the couch/BED was situated beside the toilet so whoever slept there at nights had their head by the toilet. The keycard for lights how inconvenient! I would say there was a ton of closet space and I was amazed at how sound proof our stateroom was!
Adult Only activity: Did it really exist? Clearly adult activities during the day that should have been in the adult only pool area were held at the kids pool area e.g. dance off competition with old drunk men in speedos lap grinding on old drunk women's laps...seriously in the kids pool area? I think "adult only" activities need to be revisited and redesigned! Not all adults want to spend time around children and there are activities that should be "adult only"! Very disappointed in the entertainment for adults! Even at night I attended events such as "dueling pianos" loaded with kids. It really would have been more appealing to an adult without kids to have entertainment such as dueling pianos for adults only.
Food/Dining Service: The food was not great but it wasn't bad. There was just nothing special about it! I will say this, my father loves apple pie.. It was on the dessert menu for Manhattan and Taste. My dad ordered it for dessert the first night at Manhattan. When it came out it had not been warmed, looked like store bought yucky apple pie. I didn't think he would order it again but he did a couple nights later at Taste. He specifically asked the waiter for the Apple Pie and to have it warmed. When the waiter brought it out I saw it from the doors of the kitchen that it wasn't warm. I said dad it isn't warm and yep it wasn't warm. Seriously!?!?!? Our server the last evening in Taste was horrible. I would think it would be crucial to provide exceptional customer service through out for the passengers but critically the first night and the last night. The first night to make a great impression and to put your passengers in a great frame of mind and the last b/c the passengers are tired, ending their vacation AND it will be the most vivid of experiences that will stand out in their minds post cruise.
When we would dock at the ports, the NCL crew put on a show at each port but it was a bit misleading to those that were getting off the other ships. It appeared that the NCL Epic was a happy, fun ship when in reality that was the most excitement out of the crew. It definitely wasn't like that onboard the ship. I'm sure the staff is tired, I don't personally know how they do it BUT that is a NCL issue...they are understaffed, the staff for the most part is not qualified in knowledge of NCL and NCL Epic processes, amenities, procedures and for the most part Customer Service.
Communication on the ship: I thought communication while onboard was lacking, although there was stuff going on all the time, it was poorly communicated through out the ship, poorly planned. The amenities that the shipped appeared to emphasize was the spa and fitness facility or any "event" e.g. art auction, etc that generated additional revenue. There were large screens (TV) in the Atrium and the Adult pool, each one should have been playing movies during the day especially the days we were out to sea all day. One night at 5pm Cher's final tour was shown on the screen in Spice H2O adult pool area.
Overall: I found it to be a poorly organized and run ship! We were told by other passengers that the other NCL ships are better but I'm not sure that I want to spend the money to find out. It was an expensive trip for the experience(s). My parents typically travel on Royal Caribbean and have traveled on Holland. They said out of the 3 cruise lines so far Royal Caribbean is by far the best. From people we talked to while on shore Celebrity looks and sounds like it would be worth a try. Highly doubt that I will ever give NCL a try again and I will make sure my friends don't.
Excursions and Ports: Loved St. Maarten! We participated in the Beach Buggy excursion, we all had a blast! I have never laughed and giggled so much not to mention the views! I highly recommend this excursion!!!! St. Thomas was breath-taking. We participated in "The Cat" Catarmaran Turtle Swim. It was fun and we did see turtles. Nassua, Bahamas wasn't my favorite BUT I didn't think when booking the excursion about Atlantis being in Nassua. We walked into town which was dirty and the locals were coming at us from every direction. I was propositioned for drugs and my mom was propositioned for sex. I will say by the time we got to Nassua I'm not sure that Atlantis would have been appealing because there again it was focused on child entertainment.