My wife and I just finished a 7-day cruise of the Eastern Caribbean (St. Maartin, St. Thomas & Nassau). We sailed out of Miami. This was our 8th NCL cruise. We've also sailed with Princess, Viking and Vantage. Our previous NCL ships were the Majesty, Dawn and Pearl. The Epic was the largest ship we've sailed on. With over 4100 passengers, making it all work puts a heavy load on the ship, staff and services.
EMBARKATION and DISEMBARKATION
We were impressed with the speed that a large number of people were processed. The lines moved rapidly. We arrived at the pier about 1 and were on-board before 2. We hung out in the Garden Cafe on deck 15 and then wandered down to our cabin around 3. Our cabin was ready, the room steward, Johnny, was there to greet us and we settled in. Our bags caught up with us about 4 hours later. We participated in the requisite life-boat drill which, for the first time in our experience, did not require us to don our life vests.
We had a balcony cabin midship on deck 8. The cabin design with curved walls and surfaces is visually stunning. The comfortable furnishings take up most of the space so traversing the cabin from doorway to balcony is a "one-lane" road in that someone has to step out of the way to get through some of the "choke points." Comments/concerns that have been expressed by others on previous posts about the bathroom/shower arrangements are valid. The toilet and shower are across from each other and each is a compartment enclosed by a translucent sliding door. There's little sound and visual separation between these areas and the main cabin. There's little to none powered ventilation in the toilet area and this can be a problem if you get my drift. The washbasin is in the main cabin area and this is convenient.
Lighting is good with both task-specific and general illumination. I especially like the individual reading lamps flanking the bed.
Storage space in the cabin is truly over-whelming. So over-whelming in fact that it wasn't until day 3 that we discovered the last of the hidden compartments. It's safe to assume that every surface is a door or drawer to pull open. I found it curious that there was a symbol to indicate where the lifejackets were and no helpful symbols to point the occupants to otherwise "secret" storage places of which there were many. In their defense I think they recognized this problem by having a "cheat-sheet" in the cabin that pointed out some, but not all, of the not so obvious locations that can be used for storage. I won't provide a "spoiler" for the next voyager so that the hunt for spaces remains one of the adventures of sailing the Epic.
The balcony was comfortable and worth the extra $$.
The non-surcharge venues we frequented the most were Taste, Manhattan Room and O'Sheehans. The food choices were the same in both Taste and Manhattan so it was more a matter of the type of ambience one was looking for. We look forward to sharing a table with other travelers and tried the Manhattan room the first night out. It turned out to be very difficult to carry on a conversation with the overall noise level in the space. The supper club musical group was a large part of the problem as their volume overwhelmed everything else. I guess if you were there for a supper club experience and looked forward to hitting the dance floor with your partner this would be the place to be but, if not, avoid this venue. We went back a 2nd time and requested a table far away from the performers but the combined noise level of the music and clatter from the servers stations still made conversation difficult. Taste, which shares the same menu, turned out to be a far better option. The food at both of these venues was good, not great. By the 5th day out it got somewhat boring. My wife and I had signed up for a Chefs Table experience for Thursday (the Monday table was already booked up) but were informed the afternoon of the event that several couples had dropped out so it was cancelled with great regret. Later that evening we found a bottle of wine w/glasses in our cabin complements of the maitre d. A nice and thoughtful gesture.
The Garden Cafe, the indoor/outdoor buffet on deck 15 is the go to location for an informal breakfast, lunch, afternoon snack and dinner for those who want to avoid the constraints of a fixed menu and a sit down meal. We found, the food quite good and the variety extensive. The breads, desserts and ice cream had us going back for more. Unfortunately, the available seating area and lines during peak times made it a real hassle to get a "quick" meal or even a snack. My advice is, if you enjoy this type of dining experience, go during off-peak times.
O'Sheehans, a kind of British pub themed restaurant on Deck 6, was a good alternative for breakfast or lunch. It's quiet, the food and beer's good and the menu eclectic. We did not get to any of the many speciality (i.e. surcharge) restaurants this trip since we had anticipated a Chef's table experience which fell through. Scanning the menus n the basis of past NCL experience, felt that the offerings were impressive and the experience was worth the extra $$.
Don't miss Blue Man Group, Legends, and Fat Boys Jazz Club (Slam Allen's group esp). Cirque Dreams dinner show was entertaining but the food was the low point. 2nd City at Headliners, an improv show, missed the mark for us as well but, in their support, will vary from night to night given the audience.
- watching the Super Bowl in the Atrium on the big screen.
- 2 for 1 drinks at Maltings Bar 4-6 most afternoons.
- elaborate towel animals fashioned by Johnny, our room steward.
- the croissants
- the good natured and always helpful service staff
- the pager when you're waiting for a table at one of the larger restaurants.
- the draft beer choices and prices at O'Sheehans
- the cabin shower
- other NCL ships have had more obvious visual prompts (i.e. carpet patterns in the corridors) that we've come to expect from the Dawn and Pearl to clue you as to which way forward and aft were. Other than maps at the elevator bays and common areas there were no such visual clues. Look at the colors of the numbers over the elevators for a hint (blue for starboard - orange for port). Not too helpful if you're colorblind!
- the on-board wi-if system sucks. Cumbersome, repetitive sign-on. I have an iPhone and iPad. Loading is so slow most minutes are consumed waiting for linkup and download. Only slightly better in the iCafe.
- NCL iCruise app is pretty lame but useful to check daily menus.
- the long distance that mid-ship passengers have to walk to get to an elevator. I miss the mid-ship elevator bank.
- inability to find a chaise on the pool deck after they've been "reserved" by other folk who throw their stuff on them early in the AM and don't show up until later in the day.
- the "dumb" elevators. No sophistication in the elevator operation programming to prevent full cars from stopping at call floors or redirecting car responses based on call frequency. Translation: you'll find yourself waiting a long time for a car.
- when you're waiting at an elevator bank for a car there is no perceptible audible chime to signal that a car has arrived. Unless you're constantly scanning all the elevators for a small illuminated arrow you'll miss your car. Especially perplexing is the audio prompting in the elevator announcing "door opening" and "door closing" for the visually impaired. You'd think the same prompting should occur on the floor for people waiting for a car.
- the stench of cigarette smoke everywhere in the casino
Would I sail on the Epic again? Probably not. I think mid size or smaller ships are more relaxing. The entertainment choices and activities on the Epic are top notch and if that's important to you go for it! Plan to pay extra for one or more speciality restaurants it'll dramatically expand your dining choices.