My initial interest in this cruise was in seeing the Blue man group, and trying out the "mega" ship experience. I read many of the reviews on Cruise critic. There were A LOT of pro's and con's, but the overriding thought that was expressed was a cruise was like anything else in life, it is what you make it.
We arrived to the terminal early, before 11AM. We were checked in, were issued our room key cards, and given group entry cards. We were group 16. This process was very well handled by NCL, and we were on board and heading up to the buffet in less than 30 minutes. They had a nice variety of items on the buffet, and before we were done eating they announced all the cabins were ready. WOO HOO, this is looking better by the minute.
Overall, I would say the entertainment on this cruise was the best we have ever experienced, and we didn't get to see it all.
Second City was very good. The show we saw poked fun at life aboard a cruise ship. Some of their jokes I was surprised got past NCL "censors". Like the one about greasing each other down, and squeezing each other tight, now we can get around in our cabin.
Legends in Concert: Was very good. The guy who did Jimmy Buffett really looked the part. The Michael Jackson guy did a great job, as well as the gal who did Whoopi Goldberg, and Donna Summer.
Blue Man Group: A bit abstract at times, but EXCELLENT non the less. You just didn't know what to expect next. The audience participation really added to it. The little old lady they chose for our show REALLY added to the performance.
Circue Dreams: INCREDIBLE, best we have ever seen. I didn't know the human body could be bent into those contortions. The performers just absolutely hit it out of the park. We opted for the premium seating. The one disappointment was the food. Their version of Surf and turf at this venue is a medallion of beef the size of a silver dollar, and TWO large coconut shrimp. They also seemed to be experiencing some service issues, as our table didn't get served until most everyone else was done.
The comedian in the Epic theater was VERY good. Actually kept it G rated, and used an 8 year old boy from the audience. Both unusual I thought for an 11 PM performance, but very good non the less. He asked a couple times, so, anybody winning in the casino? Finally TWO people raised their hands. I was talking with someone in the elevator who was mad that after he won and decided to leave the casino, there was nobody to cash him out. He had to take his winnings on his ship card.
Overall, I would rate good, to very good. BUT, NO COMPARISON to others we have been on.
The Crew absolutely are there for you. All ranks being friendly and courteous when you walk past, and the dining rooms staff, and room stewards are VERY attentive to your every need or desire. We were at the buffet one morning when a 5 or 6 year old lost his breakfast. The crew immediately swung into action, cordoning off the table with chairs, and they had a special team there in minutes with a special cart loaded with cleaning supplies to sanitize the area.
THE NOT SO GOOD:
First night out was lobster night in the Manhattan main dining room. Actually, surf and turf they called it, with a steak. The steak itself was VERY good, but it was a very small portion, again the size and shape of a large coin. My lobster was border line under cooked. My wife's was not edible. She sent it back, and the replacement was no better.
In years past, each time, we left an NCL boat, it was with the impression of finally being "released" from the non stop assault on our wallets, this time was no different. Granted, ALL the cruise lines are there to make money, and sell you as much of everything as they can while they have you captive. But, NCL has refined this into an art form.
From cheaping out on the balcony furniture, to trying to steer you to buy at the most over priced stores in port (which they get a cut of), to microscopic steak portions, to constantly pushing their excursions, the casino, shopping on board, future cruise bookings, bingo, specialty restaurants, drinks, to each time you changed the channel on the TV you had to endure some stupid little 10 second delay with a commercial for something else they were trying to sell you, etc, etc.
The casino seemed to be everywhere. I believe it was on three decks in the middle of the ship. There were ALWAYS slot machines, even at a bar in the middle of an atrium. I half expected to see a slot machine attached to inside of the public toilet stall doors. This ship didn't seem to have the formal main lobby area, the long flowing polished staircases, the atrium with glass elevators etc. That area was all taken up by casino.
The Epic's design is all about crammin as many cabins as possible on board. Looking at the ship's overall silhouette, it looks like a shoe box turned on its side with a point stuck on the front of it for a bow. All the other ships out there have their decks sloped inward as they rise. I can only imagine how much of a handful the Epic would be to control in heavy winds with that boxy profile. Maybe that was why it DID seem to take longer than normal for the ship to dock using its noisey side thrusters, maybe because of the wind resistance? Regardless, the thrusters turns out to be an alarm clock each morning when docking.
The cabins are pathetically small, at least the entry level balcony rooms. There is NO way two people can pass between the bed and the cabinets. Normally a room like this will have a small desk top area and a chair, for doing make up, or writing, or computer work, or? Our room had a tiny counter top space and a small stool. I had read a number of reviews about the layout of the bath facilities, and quite frankly didn't know what to expect. When I walked into the cabin for the first time I was shocked. There is NO bathROOM!!!! When you open the door, there is a small shower stall on one side of the door, and a small toilet area on the other side. Each with half round sliding doors. These are separated from the "main" cabin by nothing more than a drape. The sink, about the size and shape of a football, is in the main cabin area at the end of the bed.
What they did in the design of this ship is to take EVERY possible inch of deck space they could from wherever they could to add more cabins. The room walls are curved. This is so the areas that REQUIRE space (bed length, walkway, cabinets) can have it, but yet they can "take back" some of that floor space in the sitting area. That is why the ship is shaped like a huge shoe box. That is why all the compromises in the cabin "amenities". On their own TV recorded sales pitch for future cruise sales the gal even pointed out that all future NCL ships were being built with BATHROOMS.
We were disappointed with our balcony. We were in room 8195, and it has some sort of a drain pipe coming down from the above decks that stops over a drain flange in the floor of the balcony of this room. It makes a rather loud gurgling noise all the time. We have come to enjoy at least one breakfast on the balcony on each cruise. I have shoulder issues, and end up having to get up out of bed and go back to sleep in a recliner at home. On numerous occasions of other cruises I was able to fall asleep on the balcony in a recliner, or the chair in the sitting area, niether of which this ship had. The deck furniture was disappointing. Two small chairs, and a tiny table that might be suitable to hold two drinks and muffin. NO WAY to order a tray of breakfast, or to recline on your balcony like on most other ships.
I went to the fitness center (deck 14 aft) several times. I use a recumbant bike, but it was different from what I was used to. After much frustration with setting the resistance level, I finally went up and asked for help. Realize, I'm there for free, not buying spa stuff, or anything else, just using an excercise machine. No tip potential, but the staff went out of there way to show how to use this machine. Also, much to my delight, they showed me a "locker room" area WITH a real sized shower. I found myself timing my workouts to late afternoon (before dinner etc). When done, I used the full size shower and toilet facilities and found myself grinning like I had gotten away with something LOL.
They did not have any rating forms like other cruise lines almost REQUIRE you to fill out before you disembark. If they did, overall, I would give this cruise a 5 or maybe a 6 at best, saved by the wow of the entertainment. I'm not usually to hard to please, but, I do expect certain things. One of which is a BATHROOM, a useable balcony would be nice, and over the top food is always good.