My husband and I have cruised Royal and Celebrity and enjoy both for different reasons. If we are taking our children, we like to cruise Royal as there is more for them to do and entertainment that we know they would enjoy. We have taken Celebrity to Alaska and a short cruise just the two of us-excellent service, they really make us feel special. We wanted to try a different line and I had heard a lot about the Epic so we decided to give it a try.
We departed from Miami and stayed atthe Element hotel near the airport since I had 'points' to use. The room included a shuttle from the airport and breakfast. For $10 pp, we were able to purchase transfers to the port. The hotel was comfortable with a decent sized gym and outdoor pool with pleasant landscaping.The only drawback was there was a little more airport noise than I anticipated but it did not interfere with our sleep. The transfer to the port was very efficient and we breezed through check-in. We did have somewhat of a wait to board the boat but nothing to complain about. Once we boarded we wanted to explore the boat as it was completely new to us.
I liked the adults only section at the back of the boat with a small pool and an outdoor grill with varied 'quick' options. I especially appreciated that I could choose a chicken breast rather than just a hot dog or hamburger. There was no shortage of healthy eating options at a variety of venues. I found healthy options for breakfast, lunch and dinner and there were also vegetarian options. I am not a health nut, I just save up for dessert! The ice cream choices varied everyday and our favorite was banana, very refreshing...
Soon after boarding we were able to gain entry to our room. The balcony room was smaller than what we are used to but had a tremendous amount of storage. I genuinely wanted to like the controversial design but I have to say that we did not. I didn't mind the sink in the main part of the room but a curtain does little to allow one privacy when using the toilet. And if I wanted to watch TV while my husband was showering, I had to turn up the volume a lot. Also, there is nowhere to get dressed since there is no enclosed bathroom. The toilet and shower stalls are too small and one night as I was changing, my husband opened the door to put our dirty dishes outside...almost flashed a group walking by. However, I cannot say that the room design caused us any major concern and would not stop us from cruising on the EPIC again, in fact we have already booked Europe in the fall.
This was our first time cruising 'Freestyle'. Drawbacks are that we did not have the opportunity to get to know other passengers over dinner or bond with servers. Benefits are that if we had 'duds' for tablemates or servers, we were not stuck with them for the entire cruise. Also, we liked that we had more control over our time. So if we wanted to spend time up on deck watching a sunset during a sailaway, we didn't have to worry about being late for dinner and being inconsiderate to our table mates. And if we wanted to make an event at 7:00, we knew we could head up to the buffet at 6:15 and still make it. We spent two evenings in Taste which we liked and one evening in the Manhattan dining room which we did not. The music was simply too loud. I have to agree here with some of the other reviewers that everything was much too loud everywhere; at the pool, dueling pianos, Blue Man Group, 80's night, etc. Luckily I travel with earplugs and just made a habit out of taking them with me wherever we went. Please NCL, for the sake of everyone's hearing, please turn your audio down.
I have nothing else but wonderful things to say about our experience. The entertainment was FANTASTC! Loved Blue Man Group, Legends-Michael Jackson was great, Second City, Piano players were incredible-we went back time after time, also Slam Allen-I'm not even a big Blues or jazz fan bit he was great, as was the comedian-magician. We also enjoyed the many 'game shows' and the entertainment staff in general.
There were plenty of activities to keep us busy. Overall we found the staff to be very pleasant and personable. We did a Meet & Mingle the first day and many of the officers came and gave us cards with instructions to contact them if we needed anything. Our cabin was always quickly straightened when we left, towels replaced and fresh ice in the bucket.
Upon returning from a port visit, there was the entertainment staff dancing to music to welcome us back along with cups of fresh water and cool towels. Getting on and off the boat was never an issue. Yes, you could smell smoke near the casino but even when we spent some time there, it wasn't too bad unless we were standing next to a chain smoker. We did not get to try bowling or the rock wall but I did take a few trips down the water slides. We decided to 'carry off' our luggage as we had an 11:45 flight and I can honestly say disembarkation was never easier. We thoroughly enjoyed our cruise and have no complaints about NCL or the EPIC.