BACKGROUND - My partner and I returned today from our voyage on the Epic to the Eastern Caribbean from December 28, 2013, to January 4, 2014. We travelled on the ship with some friends primarily to celebrate the New Year's holiday, but also as a week-long vacation for us both. The cruise departed from Miami and travelled to the ports of St. Maarten, St. Thomas, and Nassau. We stayed in a mid-ship balcony cabin on the 8th floor deck of the ship. Because we travelled during the week of New Year's Eve, the price of the cruise was considerably higher than normal. Prior to booking our trip, we did a fair amount of research about the cruise and the ship, itself, including by reading several customer and expert reviews on this website, as well as speaking to friends and acquaintances who had previously travelled on the ship. This was our first trip aboard an NCL ship.
SUMMARY REVIEW - Overall, my partner and I both are very pleased, but not thrilled, with our experience on the Epic. The Epic gets high marks for the easy embarkation and disembarkation processes; its elegant interior design and the layout of its public rooms; the wide array of on-board dining options; and a few top-notch, service-oriented crew members who truly enhanced our cruise experience. In addition, we were pleasantly surprised by how much we actually liked the design and layout of our cabin, because we had read such horrible reviews about the "split" bathrooms prior to the cruise. Where the Epic falls short is in the overall quality of the on-board entertainment (which was our biggest disappointment given what we had read and heard about the shows prior to our trip); the length of time spent "at sea;" and what appeared to be an overall, systemic lack of organization and coordination throughout the ship, most notably with the reservation/"front" desks in the dining rooms. We would recommend the Epic to others, although with qualified disclaimers about the poor quality of the shows and the "slow" and somewhat boring nature of the first couple of days of the cruise which are spent "at sea."
EMBARKATION/DISEMBARKATION - The embarkation and disembarkation processes both were quick and pain-free. Our luggage was taken by the attendants curb-side outside of the terminal in Miami, and, after waiting in a relatively short, fast-moving line for less than 30 minutes to "check in" and complete the process of getting our keycards, we were welcomed aboard the ship and given access to our stateroom immediately. We travelled with a total of four pieces of luggage, each of which was delivered to our stateroom separately and at different times. We would have preferred that the luggage all be delivered at the same time, so as to avoid having to return to our stateroom at various intervals during our first evening aboard the ship to check and see whether another suitcase had been left outside our cabin door. We especially liked the Easy Walk Off option at disembarkation, which allowed us to carry our own luggage off and exit the ship at anytime between 7:30 and 9:00 a.m., without having to wait for our designated "zone" or "deck" to be called.
STATEROOM - We stayed in a mid-ship balcony cabin on the 8th floor deck of the ship (Stateroom 8155). Prior to our cruise we had serious reservations about the design and layout of the cabin, especially given what we had read about the "open plan" bathrooms. After spending seven nights in the cabin, we are happy to report that we have no issues with the open plan bathroom, and actually enjoyed it given the spaciousness of the shower stall and toilet area. The spray from the showerhead was strong and refreshing. Although the sink is in the room, it is not too far from the toilet, and the separation of the two allows for greater efficiency, because while one person is using the sink, the other person may be using the toilet simultaneously without interference or annoyance. The cabin had more than ample closet space and storage compartments, and, once unpacked, the suitcases were easily stored under our beds. The cabin had two twin-sized beds arranged side-by-side, along with a small loveseat-sized sofa. The beds were of average comfort (the mattresses were a bit too firm for my liking). The balcony was spacious and equipped with two chairs and a small table. I would disagree with other reviewers on this site who wrote that the balcony views from the 8th floor staterooms are "obstructed" by the life boats located on the 7th floor. While it is true that the life boats located on the floor below are clearly visible from the 8th floor, they do not "obstruct" the view of the ocean, which can easily be enjoyed from the stateroom balcony. Similarly, while other reviewers on this site complained about the fact that their 8th floor stateroom balcony was "uncovered," we actually considered it a plus, given that it permitted us to sunbathe on our balcony.
ACTIVITIES - Although we realize the Epic is not necessarily designed to be nor marketed as a "party" cruise (in contrast to Carnival's fleet of "fun ships," for instance), the first couple of days -- which incidentally we spent "at sea" -- seemed a bit boring and lacking in party-oriented or fun activities. After the first couple of nights, however, the party atmosphere improved considerably, featuring a highly entertaining Latin Salsa Dance party on the third night; a terrific New Year's Eve bash on the fourth night; and a White Hot party on the sixth night of the cruise. All three events were held in the open-air Spice H2O lounge located on the top deck (15th) of the ship. A few of the crew members who attended the parties -- Emma, "Luigi," Louis, and "Caveman," all of whom work in the kids program -- made those events truly memorable. We spent a lot of time at the Maltings Bar and Shakers Lounge, both of which are located on Deck 7. At the Maltings Bar, Argus, Ivanna, and Burton provided outstanding service, as did Lorelei at the Shakers Lounge. We also enjoyed playing video games in the Arcade; playing bingo in the Headliners lounge; taking our turn at the slot machines in the Epic Casino.
ENTERTAINMENT - Prior to our cruise, we read numerous favorable reviews about the high quality of the shows on NCL ships, generally, and on the Epic, specifically. Overall, we found the shows to be highly disappointing. First, the good -- we found the Blue Man Group show to be imaginative, unique, and entertaining. Well worth the price of admission. On the other had, The Second City comedy show and the Legends show were very, very, very poor -- even by cruise ship standards. Thankfully, the comedy show only lasted 45 minutes, throughout which not a single person in our group of 10 people laughed a single time at any of the dull and uninspired sketch comedy and improvisational routines. With respect to the Legends show, we were supposed to be "treated" to a live impersonator show with performances by three musical legends -- Steven Tyler, Katy Perry, and Elvis Presley. With the exception of the Steven Tyler impersonator who was okay, what we experienced was one terrible performance after another by the Elvis Presley impersonator, and especially, by the Katy Perry impersonator. Putting aside the fact that it is difficult to fathom how Katy Perry can be considered a "legend" at this point in her career, whomever directed this show apparently overlooked the fact that Katy Perry is from Californian and does not have a heavy, Brooklyn, New York accent like the one used on stage by the actress/impersonator in the Legends show. A note to the actor/impersonator who played Elvis Presley: among the most remarkable aspects of Elvis' talent was his ability to dance and gyrate his hips on stage; the most movement we got from you was a swaying arm and a toe tap. Not good!
DINING - We really enjoyed the Freestyle Dining, because it gave us flexibility with respect to our schedule on any given day. We also appreciated that there was "free" food available somewhere on the ship almost 24 hours a day, whether it be in the dining rooms (The Manhattan Room; Taste), the Garden Café on Deck 15, or the sports bar (O'Sheehan's) on Deck 6. As far as the two dining rooms are concerned, we found the service in the Manhattan Room to be far superior to Taste. Indeed, one of our servers in the Manhattan Room, Shawnda King, was truly outstanding and among the friendliest crew members we met. On the downside, the front desk personnel at both restaurants were disorganized, had difficulties handling reservations and/or honoring our requests to be seated with certain servers, and were generally rude. On one evening, the discourteous crew member in the Manhattan Room refused to seat us, because she claimed it was 9:32 p.m., and the dining room closes at 9:30 p.m.