We spent 7 days at sea with NCL's newest, 50% larger than any of the NCL ships on which we have previously sailed, holding 4200 passengers, all deck 8 or higher. We normally leave from New York, and are used to at least 3 sea days on any cruise we take. We were looking forward to 7 days at sea, enjoying the NCL hospitality to which we had been accustomed.
The first thing we noticed (after not getting a glass of champagne which had been Norwegian's habit on our last several cruises, and which would have certainly been appropriate on a maiden voyage) was that the EPIC is not so much a cruise ship, but a floating casino. By having no amidships elevators or stairs, the EPIC Floating Casino designers insured that almost all passengers would have to pass through the deck 6 casino floor(it is NOT smoke-free). The casino/smoking area extends from the aft main dining room to past the atrium and takes up what would be, on most any other ship, a central promenade. The aft elevators and stairs do not connect to deck 5 which contains the front desk, excursion desk, the two tiny meeting rooms, internet cafe, main restaurant, French restaurant, photo gallery, and art gallery. Thru the casino is the only direct route to deck 5 from aft. You also need to travel through the casino/smoking area to reach the entertainment venues on 6 forward. Although the casino takes up only deck 6, the sound of the slot machines can be enjoyed from deck 5 and 7 restaurants around both the open atrium and the open hole that isn't the atrium. The gambling tables poolside on deck 15 were not open due to weather.
As a 50% larger ship, we did not expect tiny entertainment venues. The Theatre (which had only one entrance, from deck 6) seemed half the size of theatres on other ships, and housed the Blue Man Group. The small dinner theatre in the round, which also had room for about 30 people up the stairs, houses the Cirque de Soleil and the Second City Mystery lunch. The Comedy Club contains the Second City, and the Art auctions. There were also Four Season and ABBA tribute bands, as well as the Las Vegas Legends (this week was Elvis, Madonna, and Tina Turner) There were no "Standard" cruise ship shows. The popular shows sold out, and many people were not able to attend. We had a hard time finding a quiet spot to read our own books.
On the top decks were gambling tables next to two small pools, hot tubs, waterslides (the feature being a three-story high toilet you ride an inner tube into, swirl around one to four times, depending on you weight, then go down the center drain), rock climbing walls, bungee/trampoline jumper, sports court, including a Teflon-like ice skating rink, teen club, video arcade, and ping pong tables. We wanted to play ping pong, but by the end of the first day only one ball remained. I guess the others blew overboard. There is no circular jogging track. There is a short run/walk straightaway outside on deck 7 on the starboard and three shuffleboard courts on the port sides. Some of the shuffleboard discs almost went overboard when we played. There is a spa and gym which takes up a good part of deck 14 as well as a kids club which our granddaughter liked. There a six bowling lanes, and you will get a better score if there are rough seas.
The food was very good, even better than other NCL ships. The restaurants did not feel crowded. The Italian restaurant was hard to get to. Most of the others were attached to, or within earshot of the casino. The cafeteria was very diverse, well stocked, and also had very good views - the best cafeteria food on any cruise we've ever taken.
The rooms were new and different, curved, with separate shower and water closet, a tiny shallow sink, but plenty of storage space. Most cabins have balconies, which were relatively large. It would have been nice to have lounge chairs on our deck; they would have easily fit. There are also interior studio rooms which allow single travelers to avoid paying a solo traveler surcharge. There are no porthole rooms.
Most of the negative issues we encountered, and are detailed in other reveiws, could be explained by the fact that we were on the maiden voyage, and were at sea for 7 days straight. The extra crew drills, mix-ups with key cards, and contractors still working everywhere were the types of things we expected. The new layout of the cabins seemed to work well. However, the small limited entertainment, specialty restaurants (and Ice Bar) times and venue size means many guests will not be accommodated. Freestyle Cruising Where You Want When You Want is not the case on the EPIC. If you want to sample the specialty restaurants and shows, book your reservation well in advance. Upon disembarkation, the EZ walk off was a disaster. It seemed like half the ship did not check their bags, and the crew had no clue this would happen. Two hours after the gangway opened, suitcases still clogged deck 5.
We enjoyed our cruise on the Epic. But, on balance, if you like to gamble, I would recommend Las Vegas, or even Atlantic City. If you like sea days with little to do, book a cruise on a freighter (many take up to 10 passengers). If you like visiting different places, take a cruise that stops at more than 3 ports in 7 days. If you want to see live, big name entertainment, go to New York, Las Vegas, or wait for what you want to tour through your city. If cigarette smoke bothers you, cruise on a ship where indoor smoking areas are isolated from the rest of the ship.