My wife and I cruised the Eastern Caribbean on the Norwegian Epic February 23 to March 2, 2013. This was our first cruise and based on many reviews I read, we had high expectations for our inaugural cruise. The following review is intended to be as honest and comprehensive as possible.
The embarkation process on the Epic was smooth and very well organized. We boarded the ship within 20 minutes of arriving at Terminal C in Miami.
ON BOARD THE EPIC:
Let me begin by saying the Epic is as impressive looking a ship as any, but the overall design is quite similar to many other newer cruise ships. We boarded on deck 6 by the Epic theater and proceeded to find the Taste Restaurant for lunch as was recommended by a previous cruiser. The first bit of information we were given was that unless you purchase a beverage package (soda or liquor) you will only be served hot tea, bad coffee, iced tea from a can or water. All other beverages are an up-charge. My wife is an iced tea drinker but she found that by making one of six different Lipton teas offered as hot tea, she could pour it over a cup of ice to make fresh-brewed iced tea. I drank only water as the coffee was barely drinkable. Lunch was average to good depending on your knowledge of food quality. The menu offered several choices and there is something for nearly every taste except possibly vegetarians. My overall impression of Taste was that it offered a decent, but not impressive, dining experience. Most of the servers were friendly, polite and willing to accommodate your requests. One must keep in mind that they are serving hundreds of passengers day in and day out for months, so cut the servers a little slack if they don't love every minute of their job.
After lunch, and much to our delight, we were told our cabin was ready. We stayed in inside stateroom 10166 which was located on the 10th deck mid-ship.
The inside staterooms such as ours are a total of 128 square feet including a phone booth sized shower, a separate small toilet booth and ample closet space. The room is well designed but the beds and the space are small. There is no window, so my wife and I called our room "The Tomb". Our cabin steward Mark was delightful throughout our cruise, and he did a wonderful job of attending to our every need. He even made cute little towel critters at turn down and put them on our beds. My wife loved that touch. If you are on a budget, as we were, the inside cabin is the way to go. You really didn't cruise to stay in your cabin very much did you? We were in ours just long enough to shower, change or sleep and the rest of the time we enjoyed the myriad of activities on board the Epic.
Mid-ship is the best area of the ship to have your cabin as it is a huge ship and you will do less walking if you stay in the middle of the ship. Still, you will walk a lot, and my wife and I frequently took the stairs up and down to avoid waiting for the elevator. We felt the extra exercise was necessary due to the constant feeding at breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. You just can't help yourself. There are so many dining options and so much food available day and night.
Without a doubt the best move we made during our stay on the Epic was purchasing passes for two in the Mandara Spa's Thermal Suite. It cost $146 per person, but the thermal suite offers steam baths, saunas, a multitude of whirlpool baths, lounge chairs, heated lounge chairs and a balcony that looks out of the back of the ship and has nice padded loungers. For those of us without balcony suites, the thermal suite balcony was heaven. The thermal suite also offered nice locker rooms with full-sized toilet stalls, nice showers, lockers, ample clean towels, nice robes you could wear back to your cabin and cold flavored waters to help cleanse your body. All of this for $146 for the week! A must if you're looking for the ultimate relaxation experience. The one complaint I have about the thermal suite was that there were frequently dirty towels, robes and empty cups laying around, and we rarely saw attendants cleaning the area.
The Epic offers many dining options, some included with your cruise fee, and some requiring an up-charge to dine there. The "free" restaurants include the main dining rooms Taste and The Manhattan Room, the Pub O'Sheehans and the buffet restaurant called the Garden Cafe. All of these restaurants offer multiple options on their menus, but by the end of the week you grow tired of the same average meats, melons, eggs and desserts. I must admit that the Freestyle dining concept implemented by Norwegian allows for a most pleasant dining experience as you can dress casually and eat at many different times for any meal. The whole cruising experience aboard the Epic is quite casual, but I didn't care for the multitude of tattooed, tank top and flip flop wearing behemoths that were everywhere on the ship. Hey, I'm just sayin. The up-charge restaurants include Cagney's Steakhouse, Moderno Churrascaria, La Cuchina Italian, Le Bistro French, a Teppanyaki style restaurant and a sushi bar. We ate at La Cuchina which was romantically decorated with nice window views of the sea and good food. We aren't drinkers, but we did bring two bottles of our own wine to have at two dinners. There is a $15 corkage fee for each bottle of your own wine you bring on board. We also ate at Moderno Churrascaria, a Brazilian style "meatery" which served several grilled meats brought to your table on huge skewers by faux Gauchos. The meats are pretty good, but by the time you leave, you feel "meated out". The salad bar at Moderno is quite extensive and offered the best quality food on the ship that we ate. Even though my wife and I are foodies and I am a gourmet chef, we found the food on the Epic to be edible and even enjoyable in a few cases. I must admit that the up-charging for nearly everything out of the ordinary was annoying. When all is said and done, it is all about making money for Norwegian, and they never let you forget it.
The entertainment on board Epic is quite good, and the Blue Man Group and Cirque Dreams shows are absolute musts. Pay the up-charge for the floor seating at Cirque Dreams and you will see fabulous performers so close its like watching them perform in your living room. The dinner served at the Cirque Dreams show was edible but nothing memorable. We also saw the Second City comedy show and the Presumed Murdered lunch show. Both shows were entertaining and featured the same cast of Second City improvisational comedians. If they're on their game they can be funny. If not, its almost painful. The ship also features live music in the Jazz club and dueling pianists at Howl at the Moon. They are good and entertaining. The live music on the 15th deck where the pools and sunbathers hang out is terrible unless you've been drinking all day. Many of our fellow cruisers seemed to be busy getting hammered all day. Whatever floats your boat right? At this point, I must whine about the casino. Its large and takes up at least half of deck 6. It can be smokey but it wasn't as bad as we expected it to be. They do force you to walk through the casino to get to several other venues like the Epic theater (Blue Man Group) and the Spiegel Tent (Cirque Dreams and Presumed Murdered). AVOID THE GAMBLING EXPERIENCE AT ALL COSTS! Unless you are very rich or a gambling addict, you will almost certainly through your money right into the coffers of NCL. My wife and I did gamble a bit on slots, and we won a little over a hundred bucks in the first two days. Then the sucking sound began and we couldn't win a nickel. I'm certain they tightened up the slots after day two.
Overall, our first cruise was pleasant thanks to the Pulse Fitness Gym and the Thermal Spa, but the constant up-charging and funneling of the passengers into contrived shopping venues at every port of call left a sour taste in my mouth. The ports of call, by the way were beautiful once you got past the beggars and the shopping areas. The Epic was a huge mixed bag, but my wife and I will probably wait until we're old and decrepit before we cruise again!