Just returned from a week long Caribbean cruise aboard the NCL EPIC. As a 153,000 ton Mega-ship, this is one huge vessel. My husband and I have both cruised several times and were a little uncertain of getting on a ship with 4,200 other passengers but also excited about the amount of entertainment and restaurant options. With our 5 --year-old son and Paul's parents in-tow, we headed to Miami.
Embarkation -- We arrived around noon with hopes of hoping on the ship quickly. Our luggage was handled very quickly and easily. Checking-in was also a quick, painless process. After being sent upstairs to the "holding area", you were assigned a group card. They called the groups quite quickly even though we were a bit irritated at being Group 9 which seemed like it would be quite a wait. Within 15 minutes we were on board. Without key cards in hand, we were in our rooms within minutes.
Staterooms -- We had a Balcony Stateroom (14037). This was a fully covered balcony with 2 chairs with recline ability and a small table. The balcony door is a reasonably heavy sliding door which will stay open on its own. It has good locking capabilities for kids if safety is a concern. The room is configured quite nicely with plenty of storage options. Our room has even less storage than most as it had a connecting door with another room, and with 3 of us, we still had plenty of storage for clothing and shoes. The bed was quite comfortable and I thought the quality of the linens was fabulous. We did not use the pull-out couch/bed to sit on very much, although I did sleep on it one night quite happily. It was more of a "table" for our stuff. It is a tight room in terms of walking around one another, etc. but we managed just fine.
Many discussion forums complain/complement the bathroom set-up on this ship. Yes, the shower and toilet are separated and "out in the open" in the front of the cabin upon entering. There is a curtain that can be drawn to gain privacy from the rest of the cabin, however if you had a guest entering the room, they would likely need to wait to enter if someone was in either. We had no complaints about the shower. It was roomy and modern with soap and shampoo dispensers inside. The towels are in a bit of an awkward spot to grab if you are already in the shower, so I do suggest that you grab one before getting in!
The toilet is where I can see some issues. The "door" to the toilet is frosted plastic, sliding door. It is almost purposeless in terms of privacy and as a sound barrier. It almost has no purpose! I agree that it would have been nice to have had an actual door and enclosed space, but I do believe it would have been a bit claustrophobic! So, I don't know. It was not a bother to me and my family, but if you were travelling with someone that you were not so close with, I can see that the lack of privacy would be an issue so be warned!
My in-laws were in a Balcony Stateroom on the 8th floor (8027). Be forewarned about these cabins. Although they do offer a good deal in terms of price, this one did overlook the edge of a lifeboat and received considerable splash and salt water buildup. The balcony itself is much larger than those on higher floors, but they found that it was often wet and on rainy days, offered little to no overhead protection. Their "glass" balcony was typically so filthy that they could not enjoy looking through it from the room. In addition, many of these rooms are located directly over the BLISS Nightclub which plays music until 3am. They struggled to sleep many nights due to the music.
There are 2 main dining rooms, The Manhattan Room and Taste. Both dining rooms serve the same menus every night of the week. The Manhattan Room is a bit fancier, however, our experience was that the musical entertainment was extremely LOUD and overall, very bad. We found ourselves much happier with the Taste Dining room. The food was overall, decent in the dining rooms. Nothing horrible, but nothing to get too excited about. It is simply a nice dining experience. Check your in room TV for the specialties each night as the regular menu will be the same for all evenings on board.
Le Bistro -- The French Restaurant was the star of our dining experience. The $20 p/p cover fee was reasonable considering the quality of food. The escargot was amazing (my father-in-law ordered 2 plates). My husband also had escargot, mussels, French onion soup, and the lamb. All was excellent! I had a puff pastry mushroom, vegetable Napoleon that was really unusual and great. Finishing the meal off with chocolate fondue was great. We really enjoyed the service, taste, and intimacy of this restaurant the best of all of the specialty ones.
Cagney's Steakhouse- The reviews on this place were high so we had high expectations. None of which were met. From the server who dumped our entire bottle of Hundred Acre wine, sediment included, into the decanter, to the cold sides that were served, a less than memorable lobster bisque, and to the less than flavorful meats we ordered, we were really underwhelmed. The baked potatoes were smaller than the palm of my hand. The desserts were flavorless and bad. We complained and got a little of our $25 /pp cover charge back. But wow....it was not impressive. We wished we had gone back to the French restaurant instead.
Moderno- The Brazilian Steakhouse was fair. Lots of decent cuts of meat being served table side. The salad bar was fair and the bread was not a table favorite. The experience was overall decent.
The Noodle Bar/Sushi -- My husband did not have good things to say about these restaurants. Overall, not very good.
Garden Buffet -- Open throughout the day with all kinds of food options. Overall, most items were fairly good and tasty here. We often saw some of the same items on the buffet that were being offered in the main dining rooms. They really had anything you could imagine from Indian curry dishes, to made-to-order pasta, hamburgers, and specialty dishes. Coffee, water, milk, tea, and juice (in the AM) were your only free drink offerings. There is an outdoor buffet offering some specialty burgers not served inside as well as some basic food items.
Room Service- It is a limited menu in comparison to other cruise lines. My son was a fan of the grilled cheese and having cookies and brownies delivered to his room. It was typically a 45 minute wait.
Things To Do:
Kids Water Area - The kids splash area was a hit with my 5 year-old. They have a "real" mini water slide which I am sure he went down 200 times! Lots of fun things to do for this age group here. I was usually lucky enough to score a lounge chair and pull it right over to where he was playing and get some sun while he splashed!
Water Slides- My husband went down one and said it was a rough ride and that the seams where the tube was connected were rough. It made sense why no one was really going down them much! They had one ride that you went down with an inner tube that seemed very popular.
Recess Kids Club- I really cannot say enough good things about our experience here. We registered on the first day and got a program listing of all of the themed activities while on board. Most sessions were about 2 hours with an hour of freestyle play. You cannot just leave your child in here all day FYI. The kids really seemed happy and kept busy as this was very hands on and not just a daycare with kids running wild. The supervisors were all so great and called us when our son was "missing us" one day. My son did have a bathroom accident one evening and the staff was able to contact us in our restaurant. They handled everything so beautifully. My son rarely wanted to leave when I picked him up and was always really excited to tell me all of the things that they did. One of the cutest things was Pirate night when they were all dressed in pirate garb and marched around the ship on a treasure hunt. He loved it. It was a great experience overall.
Casino- We did not spend time here personally but our in-laws played the slots a bit. The casino is located in a main thoroughfare and you really have to walk through it to get places. It is slightly smoky, but not all that bad.
Entertainment- We did not really do the shows and such. My son and I did see Blue Man Group one evening and had fun with that. Thankfully it was a free show and I would not have wanted to pay for it. Otherwise, we never did any of the other shows.
The White Hot Family Dance Party out by the pool was a hit with my son who decided to put on his own show with a cute little girl on the dance floor.
Outdoor Space- There are several small pools which were very crowded on sea days and somewhat empty on port days. There is a sport court, climbing wall, trampoline bounce, and spider climbing area. There is not a way to walk a "full lap" around the boat, which we really missed.
St Maartin- We took a water taxi over to a main shopping stretch and rented some beach chairs right right by this area. Chair rent for about $15 for 2. The beach was nice, however the water was a bit rough. We had some issues finding a decent restaurant in the area.
St Thomas -- My son and I took a taxi to Magen's Bay. This ride, in an open-air bus, is not for everyone! Hairpin turns, heights, and scary driving might be too much for some people. It was $8 each way with a $4 entrance fee to the beach. Magen's Bay was nice overall. But we had yucky weather that day which kind of took away from the fun of the day a bit. There is a small store, and tiny restaurant/bar on this beach.
Nassau -- The weather was cold, cloudy, and rainy. We took a cab over to Paradise Island, the location of Atlantis. I wasn't all that impressed with the hotel itself. The charges to see any part of the resort are ridiculous so we passed on that. I ended up walking through 2 towers to find a public beach access. Unfortunately, the beach was ridden with people trying to sell stuff to you from every angle and extremely rough waters. I didn't stay long and headed back to the ship!
Service On Board -- Overall, the service was good. Our room was always made up in a timely fashion. Many of the dining people knew my sons name by the second night. He was a big hit. Most dining/service workers were from the Philippines. These people work SEVEN days a week and do not get a day off. They work different schedules each day where they might get 3-5 hours off here and there. I am continually amazed at hearing their stories...the women who have left their babies at home while they work their 9 month contracts on board. They have to pay for their internet access which makes me even sadder that they do not have free access to at the very least, email their families without time concerns. I don't know how they do it.
Disembarkation- We had lime bag tags, but walked off of the ship with the Green group simply because we were tired of waiting. Our bags were waiting in the facility and we were off the ship without any issue. If we had been smart, we would have exited the ship earlier to avoid the mass groups waiting all over the holding areas!
Overall Experience- In general, it was a positive week. The ship, lacked some traditional cruising elements that we missed in comparison to Holland America. We wouldn't say this was a bad experience in any way as we had a lovely time. However, the "mega" ship option might be lacking on the attention to detail in regards to the dining and ship configuration overall.
Travel Tips for the EPIC-
*Power Strip- There are only 2 plugs in the room and we surely needed more power sources for our electronics.
*Bar Soap/Conditioner- If you don't like the pre-loaded body wash in the shower, bring your own bar soap. There is no conditioner FYI.
*Don't loose your NCL provided beach towels. It will cost you $25.00!
*If you have kids, the kids club has themed events like Underwater, Hollywood, Spies, Pirates, and a Pajama Party. My son happened to have some cute clothes that matched a few themes which made it even cuter when he arrived!
*Research your ports a bit on Cruisecritic.com for good travel advise. The shore excursions are so expensive and you can visit most anywhere for half the price or less just by being a bit saavy.
*Pack a bathrobe if the bathroom layout is an issue and your have privacy concerns