Since my first cruise aboard the Dolphin in June of 1981, I can unequivocally state that this trip aboard the Epic is the only time I have been completely UNDERWHELMED by a ship and its maintenance. From the presence of rust and grime, my first guess would be that this ship is only months away from major refit, but the ship has only been in service for less than 3 years. Poor maintenance must then be only way I can explain why this ship has more rust and broken fittings than any other I have seen. On my balcony, for example, very bolt is covered with rust. Crud covers the balcony deck and bulkheads. The telephone by the 9th deck starboard forward elevator bank has been broken since the cruise started. 7 am walks around the pool area reveal not only rust at nearly every junction of stainless steel on steel but also napkins, cigarettes, food and general garbage that wasn't policed the night before. How often does the pool staff clean that area?
Do the maintenance problems result from budget cuts and a lack of staff? I am a ships Captain and former military officer. With that background, my first tendency is to place the fault for these problems with the senior officer staff. Where are they? On most cruises, senior officers are more visible than a cabin steward.
Moving beyond the general maintenance and cleaning issues, it is difficult to believe that the Epic has been in service for less than 3 years. The public area layouts are cramped and dreary. My family sailed up on the Freedom of the Seas and Solstice in the past year. The public areas on those ships are spacious, bright and inviting. The Epic is dark and tawdry. The only place where the Epic is bright is the Atrium where a two story television screen blasts out light that blinds anyone passing by without sunglasses.
It appears that NCL didn't fail to cut every corner they could when offered the chance. Cheap plastics and vinyl that could have come out of any double wide trailer seem to be their preferred public area construction materials. Look at the flooring in the shopping area. It looks like the same 12"x12" vinyl, adhesive backed tile you can buy at Home Depot for 99 cents a square.
What is the official relationship between contracted cruise personnel and passengers? This is the first cruise ship I have sailed upon where the wait and cleaning staff stand in line together with the passengers to purchase their morning coffee (see the Atrium Cafe any morning around 7:30. By the way, that is also a commentary about the quality of coffee aboard this ship. It's terrible. When a Philippine cleaning woman would rather pay her hard earned money for a cup of coffee than drink the ship's coffee, there is a problem with what you are serving.)
In short, I have cruised dozens of times on cruise ships around the world. This was my first trip aboard NCL. NCL has a reputation as being better than Carnival but not as nice as Royal Caribbean. I wanted to finally see for myself. How is it possible that the Epic is advertised as the jewel of the NCL fleet? That is a very sad commentary on the rest of the NCL ships. This will be my last cruise with NCL, and these will be the sentiments that I will forward to anyone who asks for my advice.