This cruise was sponsored by Park West Gallaries VIP program, consequently I can't comment on the value of the cruise, other than they were correct, this was the most expensive free cruise my wife and I ever taken.
The embarkation was a snap because ... this was a VIP cruise, so they whisked us right through to board the largest ship we had been on to-date, over 4000 passengers plus crew; the Epic was certainly an impressive ship. We went to our balcony room, which turned out to be almost perfectly amidships on the port side; it was definitely surprise.
The cabin was the smallest I have seen and its set-up the strangest. Stepping through the door, I saw the toilet behind a translucent door/window on the right and shower behind a similar enclosure on the left. A couple of more small steps brought us to the queen bed where we spied the wash basin below a reasonably sized medicine cabinet to the left. Moving to the left a little, we worked our way single-file and a little bit side-ways between the bed and the counter until it opened up a little, where both of us could more or less exist side-by-side between the couch and the clothes closets. From there, you could take about three or four steps out onto a small but adequate balcony. What the cabin lost in human space, it made up for cabinet space; there were cabinets and cubby-holes everywhere, more than we could fill. (BTW, (by the way), I didn't like the toilet set-up, but my wife actually liked it. The shower and wash basin were actually practical.)
Most of our time was taken up with Park West Gallery activities, getting introduced to artists, viewing their work, and participating in their auctions. Parts of the activities were cocktail parties and dinners in the main dining rooms, but grouped together. I offer this as a lead in to the ship's service. At the cocktail parties, you couldn't ask for better service, I would definitely rate it a 5. In the dining room, except for the last night, I would say a 4; the last night, a 2. But, as a regular passenger it was probably the most mediocre service of the nine cruises my wife and I have enjoyed. The staff simply wasn't around when you needed service or they stood around when you clearly needed help. Consequently, it was easy remaining sober at the pool or at the casino; and they were by far the unhappiest crew we have had the pleasure of sailing with.
The food? The food was adequate; no better. The specialties each night on the menus were rarely that special. Having said that, the Epic did have the best selection of specialty restaurants of any ship we have been on. We only ate at one, the teppenyaki restaurant; which was very good. The reports we received about several of the other venues were just as positive. The only problem that I see is the cost is similar to what you would see off the cruise ship.
The size of the ship allowed it to be rather creative. The Epic had the standard rock wall, the most elaborate set of water slides I have yet to see, an outdoor market, wind-protected, more-or-less, ping-pong (Carnival needs to take a note), and more hot tubs than you can shake a stick at. They also had a rather spacious adult's only area, which strangely ended at 8:30 PM; after which it was open to all. Missing was a main pool section, a la Island Princess, that was covered and conditioned keeping it in comfortable light shade for those of us who don't find the bright sun ... fun. Another detractor, for me anyway, was the constant beat of loud, raucous music -- everywhere on the Lido deck, even in the adult area; I don't how well that set with the mainly over 55 passenger cohort, but I didn't like it. Below the Lido deck they had an Ice Bar kept at minus 17 FÂ°, a two-deck high TV screen in the middle of the ship for movies and sports, and one of the largest casino's I have seen; it even had Pai Gow, which is the last game of chance I have a chance of lasting more than five minutes before losing my bank; you simply cannot conceive how bad my luck as gotten over the last 30 years.
Unfortunately for Norwegian Cruise Lines, the most memorable part of the cruise, besides the Park West experience, was the disaster called "walk-off disembarkation". Because we had an early flight and Norwegian had no other accommodation for this fact, we had to use their walk-off feature which means we take all our bags with us but get off an hour and thirty minutes earlier than anybody else. Their written instructions were to be at disembarkation point at Epic Casino "forward". Well there is no casino in the front of the ship, there is a theater, and the casino is amidships, where we boarded; and that is where people began lining up at 6 AM. We arrived about 7:10 AM to find the line was all ready around the rear end of the casino heading back down the other side; that is where we took our place and began patiently waiting. More people showed up and we sent them to the back of the line. 7:30 AM went by, then 7:45 AM. Finally there was an announcement they were about ready to disembark at casino forward. Did I mention there was no crew in sight to provide information or crowd control, which were beginning to get unruly? Around 8:00 AM we found the passengers we had been sending to the rear of our line, which was the forward of the ship, were now debarking through door near the Epic Theater, NOT the Epic Casino; we had to wait another 20 minutes. To say the least, we were not happy and if we had been at sea, there might have been a mutiny!
The last thing I would like to mention is the elevators, or the lack thereof. The Epic is a very long ship, to say the least. When you are in your cabin amidships, you have to walk almost the whole length of the ship to anywhere above you, where much of the activity is, like the casino, the garden buffet, etc. Now, if Norwegian has your health in mind, and feels it is necessary to walk off all of that food you eat, they did a good job by not allowing passenger access to the central elevators. What they did have were two sets of eight elevators, four on each side; one set forward and one set aft. Then they put them on slow for the whole trip.
OK, that wasn't the last thing, this is. The life-vest safety drill before sailing was scary. When the announcement to assemble finally came, the crew wasn't ready, we didn't know where to go, because they had to set up the signs in the casino still, unlike Carnival and Princess which had these places permanently marked. Once we located the right place, the crew made no attempt to make sure they had the right number of people, it was impossible as we were comingled with the group to our left just sort of gaggling around the blackjack and pai-gow tables. Then the barely audible instructions on how to use the life vest were given and some of the crew followed them ... As I said, it was scary and I am glad we didn't sink.