As a previous review stated, despite all the hype, the Epic has no "wow" factor. We've done three previous cruises with Royal Caribbean on Voyager-class and Radiance-class ships, and the Epic is by far the newest ship we have ever cruised on, but we would never have known that from what we saw other than the staterooms having flat-screen TVs. The decor seemed dated and uninspired. The interior felt constricted. The exterior areas felt constricted! The layout of the buffet restaurant, with long squared-off lines, seemed like it was taken from an industrial lunchroom cafeteria. The ship often felt a bit crowded, which I had never felt on a cruise ship before.
The "Freestyle" concept seemed interesting, and the advertised dining choices seemed plentiful, but when it came down to it for free dinner you had two choices: the main dining rooms (which were pretty much identical menu-wise) and the buffet. The food in Taste, the Manhattan Room, and the Garden Cafe buffet, as well as the upscale food we got with the Cirque and Murder Mystery shows, all seemed so mediocre that we could not imagine that the specialty restaurants could possibly be worth it, nor did their menus seem particularly exciting. We are foodies. We eat out a lot while at home. We have come away greatly satisfied with the dining experience on the RCI ships, where we also eschewed the specialty dining options. The food was a definite low point on the Epic. We were actually depressed after eating in the buffet on our first night after finding that the wait for the dining rooms was too long (we've since heard it was lobster night). Our best meal on the cruise was at a fish fry restaurant in Nassau (Two Brothers), and the second best was the jerk chicken that was available one day at the buffet.
One exception to the mediocre food were the desserts at the buffet, which were superior to anything offered in the main dining rooms. The buffet also occasionally had items like cold watermelon soup where were never in the main dining rooms. Puzzling.
The beverages often seemed a little off--not that they spared the alcohol in the drinks, but that the mixers just didn't have good flavor. A rum-and-Coke (er, Pepsi) or margarita or pina colada was fine, but try an old fashioned or a caipirinha and you likely won't have another one. And while the water in our room was fine for drinking, tap water in restaurants occasionally tasted strongly of chlorine. The coffee was never very good. I did miss the free lemonade RCI provides.
The pools seemed small for such a large ship, and the pool in the adults-only area was way too small. All the hot tubs were often not just full, but over-crowded. The adults-only Spice H2O area suffered greatly in comparison with RCI's Solarium areas, though the average age did skew quite a bit younger. Personally, I couldn't stand having a giant sports-stadium-sized video screen blocking my view of the ocean, but I understand it was there to liven up the late-night club atmosphere of the area--just wish it could have been retracted during the day. In comparison to RCI, it seemed like NCL just didn't want me to see the ocean from anywhere on the ship except my balcony.
I got tired of finding myself walking through the smoky casino to get from place to place, despite trying to avoid it. It seemed designed to be unavoidable (unlike RCI ships we've been on).
Found odd sewage-like smells occasionally, like in the Bliss lounge in the day time, or in the hallways, or on our balcony.
"Freestyle" became a joke for us. Whenever we heard it mentioned, we came to think of it as "you're on your own" or "this is going to cost you." The "freestyle" disembarkation was a great example. NCL seemed to encourage people to just take all their own luggage off the ship and leave when they wanted. This created a zoo on the last morning. We didn't fall for the trap, but we got caught up in a long line with "freestyle" people who didn't understand they should have been in another even longer line. The only benefit for us was that we found our luggage in port very easily and passing through immigration/customs was the easiest it's ever been for us.
Now for the good bits: we loved the entertainment. It was far better than we've had on any RCI ship, though it looks like RCI has upped their game on their largest ships now. Blue Man Group was great (and we've seen their touring show in the past year), Second City was great, Slam Allen Blues Band was great, the dueling pianos were fun. After seeing Legends in Concert I was saying that it was probably the lamest show on the cruise, and it would have been a highlight of any of our RCI cruises. But I was premature--I really did not enjoy the Cirque show, which seems to get mixed reviews. I got tired of all the loud whistle-blowing and pointless audience participation exercises, but others did enjoy it. NCL really seems to make an effort to present entertainment in smaller venues and have the audience be a part of it, which I think is good. Another bonus was the Blue Man Group Q&A session during a sea day.
We also very much liked our cabin, which had great storage space. I was unpacked more quickly than on any previous cruise. The bathroom situation took some getting used to, and worrisome for NCL should be how the entryway floor was evidently being destroyed by moisture from the shower, but it did not bother us much. Our rear-facing balcony was great, the largest balcony we've had on any ship. It was supplied with two chairs, a little table, and a deck chair, and it could easily have accommodated a second deck chair. We were on one end, so our balcony was actually slightly wider than the ones in the middle.
And we really liked the water slides, which were available for adult use. Great fun! As was the Ice Bar, which was a must-do.
In summary, after this cruise on NCL I think my perfect cruise would be to have my Epic stateroom (with a bathroom reconfiguration) and entertainment on an RCI ship. But I'm not inclined to do NCL again.