I went on this cruise as a getaway over Christmas break while my sons 17 & 5 were out of school. We made the rather long drive from Atlanta to Miami over two days. We had never sailed with NCL before and my kids were excited to try something different. We had previously sailed a few times on carnival. My oldest son wanted to try the epic because of all the buzz about its innovative design. I didn't do much research about the ship or the cruise line. I knew Norwegian was supposedly freestyle cruising where you don't have to dress up or eat at an assigned time, but I knew very little about the ship itself.
The first thing that struck me when we arrived at the port was the shape. It was very.....square. Not exactly the most aerodynamic design. The odd configuration of the upper decks gives it a very top heavy appearance. I figured who cares about that as long as everything else is good.
Embarkation- fairly easy although we waited for a decent amount of time. Not too bad I imagined given the ship's size and passenger capacity. We figured the ship had to be quite full given that many people had not started back to school yet. There seemed to be a good number of kids on board as well.
The Ship- The epic is very cool with its vast number of lounges and restaurants. This was the largest ship I had ever been on and it was a bit overwhelming at first. One major gripe I had was the odor of smoke in the area of the atrium. The smoke seems to billow out of the casino and spreads through the whole area. Otherwise I thought this ship was very cool and modern in its design. None of that gaudy decor like on carnival's ships.
The cabin- This was probably the most disappointing aspect of the ship. While the cabin looks very cool, it doesn't translate into being functional. I like the ceiling, I think it gives it the illusion of being taller. The wave design was meant to make the cabin look modern and more spacious, however I believe it has the opposite effect. In my opinion it looks cool, but it makes the cabin feel smaller. The wavy couch is ridiculously uncomfortable even for a cruise ship couch, and when folded out as a bed it makes the room feel very cramped. We originally requested to have the beds split apart to make 2 twin beds, but after seeing the room elected to keep them together to maximize space. I had read something about the epic having a split bathroom design but was I was totally unprepared as to what that would look like. The toilet and shower are in two different compartments which we jokingly said looked like 2 frosted glass phone booths. The sink is in the main cabin. I was expecting a split cabin design like Disney has, not this terrible setup. The frosted glass is still quite transparent and the glass offers no sound proofing whatsoever. The curtain helps a little. The way the cabin is arranged makes it so no one can come or go from the cabin while someone is using the bathroom or taking a shower.
Dining- Freestyle Dining, an interesting concept, not sure I really care for it in practice. All of my previous cruises up until this point had been with carnival and we had always had set time dining. I found that I don't really care for the idea of just showing up at one of the dining rooms and waiting anywhere from 10-45 minutes. Besides the main dining rooms, epic has tons of other places to eat, some of them included, some not. I can't put my finger on it, but there's just something I don't care for about a ship loaded full of places to squeeze more money out of me. I know it was designed to provide flexibility, but there are just way too many places on board that cost extra...
The quality of the food was pretty good, although I found the menus to lack variety. The buffet food was just fair.
Service- The service was very good on board, although slightly impersonal. Our cabin was always kept spotless, but we never me our cabin steward. Never saw him once, don't even know his name. The wait staff was good, but at one dinner the waitress seemed perfectly happy to ignore us lol
Entertainment- the quality of the shows were amazing. The blue man group and the legends show were both amazing. Much better quality than what you typically see on cruises. This is the first time I would say I have seen entertainment on board that is comparable to a land based show. However, that being said, the theater is not nearly large enough for the number of people on board. I thought the whole point of freestyle cruising is so that you could do what you want when you want. If you have to make reservations for shows, it seems to me like it defeats the whole point. I understand why they do it this way, but again I just don't care for it.
Overall the epic just did not live up to my expectations. This ship has some amazing features but some major design flaws as well such as the wavy cabin walls, see thru bathrooms, a theater that is much too small, and public areas that are too cramped. This is just a personal preference, but I just don't like "freestyle" cruising. I don't like the waiting for a table, having to pay a majority of dining options, or having to reserve show tickets.
I won't be cruising on the epic again or Norwegian for that matter. Freestyle is just not for me.