The Norwegian Epic is an amazing ship. It has many cruise industry firsts, and even more NCL firsts. At 1.2 Billion dollars it was a bold investment by the company, and they are counting on their flagship to be deliver the goods. However, while I can say I was impressed with the Epic, it still needs a lot of work before I would consider cruising on her again. Please read my review below before considering booking a trip and then decide if the ship is right for you.
First off, a few caveats. I only give her a 2 star because of all the problems we encountered with this TA experience, but the ship itself is more like a 4+ star! We were on the inaugural voyage from South Hampton England to New York. We were literally the first people on the boat, and the crew spent the entire 7 days finishing construction as we sailed. They also spent a lot of time practicing safety drills and sorting things out for themselves. So they need to be cut a little slack. Also, the Epic is not designed for trans Atlantic crossings. She is not the QE2. She is a top heavy boat with 17 decks and a majority of her activities being placed outdoors. The seas were 10-20 swells at times and the weather was cold and windy and rainy for much of the cruise making many of her best features unusable. That being said, we knew all of that when booking the cruise so I am not interested in discussing those issues, but rather to give a constructive critique of the new boat and her pros and cons.
State Rooms: The first thing people often ask about a cruise is the size of the room. Which is not a major selling feature on the Epic. They have designed the staterooms to fit as many as possible on the ship and pack folks in. There is so much to do, that why do you really even need a big room? That being said, we were in a deluxe family balcony, which is equivalent to a mini suite on any other cruise, and it was very tight. The room reminded us of an RV. Long and narrow, with well designed use of space, but a little clusterphobic. In fact, for the three of us to move around in the room, we had to orchestrate our paths since it was hard to have two people pass each other. Another two feet in width would have made a big difference. The same goes for the balconies. They were adequate, but you weren't going to be throwing a party out there. Overall, this was a disappointment, and you feel a little short changed since this is more "mini" then "suite" but as long as you know what you are in for when you book, then you can plan ahead.
The next major issue with the rooms that almost everyone disliked was the bathroom arrangement. As one guest commented, "it must have been designed by a man". It makes no sense, and offers little for privacy. The toilet and the bath tub/shower flank the door and each has its own frosted enclosure. They both work just fine but the design is not flexible. If you are sharing the room with a mother in law, you won't have much privacy, and even if they close the curtain, you couldn't leave the room. It maximizes space, but at the cost of sensibility. As for functionality, they both work very well, but the toilet is VERY loud. It has great sucking power, but at night, you will wake up the entire room if you decide to flush.
The sink is not located with the shower and toilet, but more inside the living space of the room. It is odd for a lot of reasons, but the most obvious is that it is not behind the curtain that separates the rest of the bathroom from the room. So if you are going to brush your teeth, the rest of the room gets to watch whether they like it or not. This can be particularly difficult if you have a child who goes to sleep before you. It used to be you could go into a bathroom and close the door to tidy up before bed. But on the Epic, that won't happen. As for functionality, the sink works fine, but while it looks cool, it splashes everywhere and is not deep at all. If you want to wash a piece of clothing in your sink, that is not going to happen. It looks great in a photograph, but you have to wonder if anyone ever tried these things out before putting them in 3000 rooms!
The doorway location was another issue that raised concerns. With its central position, an open door means that whoever enters can see everything in the room. This is common is some inner rooms, but not typical in suites. Usually the door is offset and you enter down a mini hallway with the lavatory on one side and then enter the room. Thus, if you were leaving and your spouse still wasn't dressed, someone in the hallway wouldn't have the opportunity to spy in you room. You could close the curtain, but that is just a hassle. The rooms were designed to be as efficient as possible, and this was one of the sacrifices that I wish they didn't make.
The wave effect in the room was highly touted by NCL and is pretty cool. Its certainly not like any room you have been in before, but once you get past the neat factor, you are left with a space that looks great in photos, but isn't as practical in real life. For instance, the bed is actually rounded on the end making it shorter then normal. I am 5'7" and I am not kidding when I say my feet were hanging off the end of the bed. The storage areas are all curved making certain items not fit, and the couch is rounded making the sleeping area for a third person a little cramped. You can pull the couch out for a bed, but then it does become difficult to pass when you want to get to the bathroom at night. Both beds are relatively comfortable, but they could have saved money by going with standard beds instead of paying for custom curved beds and I would have been much happier. Plus, it may have been just on this cruise, but the typical overlay into the two twin beds to make them a queen was missing, meaning you felt the crack every time you were in the middle of the bed. All in all, I can say the novelty of the wave is pretty cool, but it eventually wears off and you just have to make do with a less functional living space.
The Lighting in the rooms is very good. You can use the carious switches to create the mood you want, and we found a way to darken the room enough for our son to fall asleep while still keeping it functional. There were a lot of switches, and the lights only work when a card is in the key slot, but overall the system works. One gust complained they couldn't find their sink light switch, which is cleverly placed on the bottom of the medicine cabinet, but overall they did a good job. The back lit buttons on the LED reading lights near the bed were so bright, that you could almost read a book without any lights on. We ended up having to cover them with various objects to make it darker. Also, the acrylic dome over the bed looked great, but vibrated a lot and was a bit annoying. This could have been only because we were in the back of the ship and the engines make a noticeable vibration, but the rattling of acrylic kept my wife up several nights.
One major positive in the rooms was storage. As I mentioned above, the room is almost like an rv with every space maximized. There a endless places to put things from under the beds, to drawers under the couch. It can make for an interesting packing exercise at the end of the cruise, and one person complained that they would have liked a few more drawers, but overall NCL nailed this one. You will have not problem fitting everything in the room.
I did get to do a tour of many other rooms as a member of cruise critic and it was a lot of fun. The studio rooms are a nice concept, and as you would expect are very small. The spa rooms were nicely furnished and had some great features, but would really only work for two people. The villas are of course nice and offer a completely different experience with butlers, their own eating area, fitness club, pool, and hot tubs, but they should get all that for what they are paying. I've seen a lot of early reviews from these guests saying their experience was incredible. But if you are not staying in an owner's suite or villa, then I would recommend quantifying their comments in a different context. All I can say is that you need to really look at what you need to get out of your room and do your research before you book since the categories on this ship are very different then anything else NCL has.
Security: This was a new boat, and there are certain things to be expected, but there were a few issues that NCL really needs to fix to get the boat at where it needs to be from a safety level. I am sure that a lot of these will be corrected in the next few weeks, but others may take a while, or may not be changed so just be aware.
First off, there are no peep holes in the doors. It's certainly not the end of the world, but they are common on many ships, and they can add an element of safety, especially in the studios section.
There are several areas on deck 15 where water is pooling. This is due mainly to the water slides. The NCL crew was trying very hard to keep it under control, and even had a person or two using a squeegee all day/every day to try to keep issues to a minimum. This was obviously a design flaw when they were building the ship, and there simply isn't enough drainage around these areas. I'm sure NCL will find a way to fix the problem, but it may take a little while. Just be aware that certain areas of the ship have standing water and can be slippery.
In addition to the slick decks, there was another issue around the main pool area on deck 15. This is a common issue in the ship, but basically there just isn't enough space for the large amount of people to walk around. They have packed so many lounges on the deck to accommodate guest (which is a good thing) that it is difficult to navigate your way from fore to aft. Since this is a common walkway for the ship, and the best way for aft staterooms to get to the Garden Cafe, this can be an issue.
The next issue will surely be fixed soon, but led to some funny situations in various public bathrooms around the ship. These rooms are outfitted with occupancy sensors, but are only set for motion and not sound. They were also set for only a 1minute time interval, which meant that if you were in a stall for any length of time, the room would go dark, sometimes just the stall, sometimes the WHOLE public restroom.. This led to some fun conversations with fellow stall users, but could potentially be a safety issue. It certainly scared a few of the younger passengers. There is an easy fix for this, and it will surely be completed soon, but I figured it was at least worth a mention.
An easy change to make is the activity of the Stewards walking in on unsuspecting patrons. The doors in the rooms are extremely thick and do a great job of keeping the sound out. If you hear a knock on the door, and respond with "I'll be there in a second", the steward might not hear you. It is not really there fault since the doors muffle the sound because they are SO good, but unless you plan to scream, there is the chance that they could walk in on you in some compromising situations. There is a dead bolt on the door, but it doesn't seem to stop them. This was not just a problem for us, but for several passengers in several levels of rooms. It can easily be fixed by changing your status to "do not disturb" but that requires you to open the door and do it manually. (More on this in the technology section)
This is not an issue for us, but one guest was VERY upset about this policy. It can be a sensitive subject so if you are worried, it may warrant a trip to the photography desk on the first day. On every other cruise we have been on, photographers take pictures and place them on a big wall and you can look through and find your shot and buy it. The Epic has a really cool system that takes it to the next level. The boat has facial recognition that actually identifies who you are and places the pictures in a file that you can access on a computer by inserting your key card. It's brilliant and works very well. Its not a perfect system, but it seemed to find most of our pictures. You simply find the one you want and then you can buy it. The issue is that they also print out the pictures (which is not exactly environmentally friendly since most people don't buy every picture) and then they place them in big mailboxes for each room. Once again it is VERY easy to find your photos (which is a good thing) but it is also easy for a potential stalker to look through a cabin number and know exactly who is in each stateroom and what they look like. I am not that paranoid personally, but it can easily be fixed by simply not printing out the photos and just letting people access them on the computers.
One oddity was the strange location of the infirmary on Deck 10. In almost all other NCL ships it is located in the bowels of the ship on deck 4 or below. I suppose it doesn't really matter where the room is, but considering how NCL charges a premium for upper decks, its odd to allow the doctor to occupy this space. And with large sells on one day deck 10 had a whole lot of "sick" action on it...
Another major issue that I hope they can easily fix was the overall public address announcements. While there may have been a speaker in our room that wasn't working, we couldn't hear any of the announcements made by the captain or cruise director. Even emergency tones did not play loudly in our stateroom. Personally I was not complaining about this since we seemed to have 2-3 safety drills per day and I liked the peace and quiet, but I could easily see someone sleeping through an announcement if a real emergency was happening.
Technology: The ship has some great technology and even more on the way, as you would expect from a new ship. Other things will be fixed shortly (like the tv's, ours broken for 3+ days). But certain things, like intranet connectivity are simply unacceptable and need to be updated immediately.
There is a large LED TV from Philips in the main atrium that is used for various things over the course of the cruise. It is close to HD quality and spans two decks from 5 to 6 and can be viewed from O'Sheehan's. It was used primarily to watch the world cup (which was a horrible feed) but it was also used to show movies and even play the Wii. It's a great idea and the technology is cool, but often times it was just cycling through preset images that looked nice. Hopefully they find ways to use this feature more in upcoming cruises.
The AC in our room seemed to have issues. We had it set to the lowest level, and yet the room never really got any cooler. Conversely, some friends in a similar room couldn't get their temperature up and complained of being frozen. I'm sure they just need to work out the kinks in the system, but it certainly wasn't perfect for the first cruise. Water was the same way with the controls being reversed.
The TV in the room is a flat screen 32" HD, and it is very nice. It has a lot of technology built in and you can rent pay per view movies, check the status of your bill, or view restaurants. Supposedly you will eventually be able to make reservations, look at your photo's., and even play bingo from the TV, but none of that was available at the time of our cruise (nor was the tv for over 3 days?). It would be a welcome addition. They could also add the next days itinerary sheet instead of printing them out as an added feature. One issue that hopefully will change is the lack of TV stations. I understand that NCL doesn't make any money if we sit in our rooms watching tv all day, and honestly, I don't pay all that money to watch spongebob when water slides and rock climbing walls abound, but there were about 7 stations, and the two kids stations were not live feeds. They were looped cartoons that once watched were replayed over and over. This was not a huge deal for some people, but anyone with kids will get awfully sick of watching the same 5 episodes over and over. They really need to offer more stations. Pay per view was a nightmare and very expensive, we had numerous issues with the movie stopping ½ way through or the system just being a pain...
The phones are pretty slick and offer a lot of features like reservations, 24hr pizza, and announcements. A lot of the phones weren't working during the beginning of the cruise, but once they sort through the mess, I am sure you will be happy with them. There was cellular service provided that worked very well, but they charge international roaming charges so just be ware.
The facial recognition was mentioned above for the photos and seems to work pretty well. Of course I wonder what else they use it for?
The internet speed was absolutely horrendous. I can't even begin to describe how slow it was. When we first got on the ship I signed up for the 100 minute plan and began to download my emails. What normally would have taken 10 seconds at home took 22 minutes. I am not kidding! I actually went down and found the tech guy and complained. He explained it was bouncing off the satellite and to expect only dial up speeds. I haven't used dial up in 10 years! I know I'm sounding snobbish here, but for those who want to stay in some contact, you will pull your hair out and go bonkers trying to use it. I have been on other cruise ships and they have not been this slow. The tech guy said he doesn't expect it to get much better for future cruises. I know they are limited by satellite technology, but as the internet has become an integral part of our lives, this is only going to get worse. I expected better from a brand new ship.
In our room there were only two plugs to recharge things and they are located next to each other under the desk. For some this might not be a huge deal, but for others who rely on I-pads and Nintendo DS for the kids (especially when having to stand in long lines to que for shows?), I would recommend packing a power strip to have the extra versatility.
There will eventually be a WNCL room located on deck 5 where they will make movies of the cruise, and kids will be able to play on green screens. Supposedly the Nickelodeon crew will use this as well. It was not set up for the TA, but that would be a very cool addition.
One ongoing joke during the cruise was the "binging" of the elevators when they arrived at a floor. The second city troop actually made fun of it. The elevators make a very small sound, or maybe don't even signal at all, so if you aren't paying attention it will open and close and you will never even know you missed it. This could be fixed soon, but it certainly wasn't over the course of the week. It doesn't drive you insane, and if you have a room close to the lifts, you won't be woken at night, but it was kind of funny.
One idea I did have was to have the ability to change the room occupancy from inside the room. Due to the privacy issues stated above, it would have been nice to push a button on your phone or to have a keypad where you can switch the note on the outside to say "do not disturb". Several of the higher end hotels are now doing this. Currently it's a rotating dial that you have to open up the door to spin, and while its functional, it would be nice to incorporate this technology.
Entertainment This was by far the biggest complaint by everyone on the ship, and even caused a few fist fights (no I am not kidding). Whom ever designed the entertainment venues on this ship either can't count, or has no idea about the cruise habits of NCL patrons. NCL is known for its high quality shows, and the Epic is no exception. The shows are great and every venue was packed for every show and we were only at 75% occupancy. But that was the problem. People simply couldn't get into the shows they wanted to. The lines were horrible. For many shows you had to get there an hour in advance to make sure you had a seat, even if you pre reserved. We arrived 20 minutes prior to our Cirque show with preferred seating only to find our seats had been given away (we learned our lesson the hard way?). This is a major problem. The venues are way to small for the number of people on the ship, and anyone who says I'm crazy was either not going to the shows, or has VIP privileges since they were in villas. I talked to several of the NCL corporate people who were on the ship for this voyage and they admitted that they made a mistake in sizing these rooms. I'm sure they will figure it out, but just realize you need to book well in advance if you want to make sure you see the shows.
The layout for the entertainment venues should help to explain this. There are three main areas, the Epic Theatre, The Spiegel Tent, and Headliners. There are several others such as Spice H20, fat cat's and Bliss, but the one's above are where most of the shows take place. They are all located along one hallway with a box office in the middle. The Epic Theatre seats about 600 people and in single tiered. There is a bar in the room, and the theater has a huge stage. But do the math, even with two shows a night, that means that 1200 people can see a show. There are 5000+ people on the ship! If the Blue Men played to sold out shows twice every night, it would take at least 4 days to let everyone just see them. And that doesn't take into account that the Legends show uses the stage, as well as the Nickelodeon crew, and in the future, there will be an entertainment troop. For a ship with over 5000 people, the main theatre should have seated around 1200 people. To give a comparison, the Opal Theatre on the Oasis of the Seas has three tiers and seats 1350 people. NCL simply dropped the ball on the size of the theatre. As for the Spiegel Tent, that was another problem. It seats about 250 people and has two tiers. Once again, do the math. Even with 3 shows a day, for all 7 days of the cruise, not everyone could actually see the Cirque show. And that doesn't include that the tent is also used by the Murder mystery troop and the Nickelodeon crew. Is it a neat space, sure, but it is simply way too small for the size of the ship. Plus the sight lines are horrific. If you get the premium seats, you can sit at tables under the tent and have a great view of a show. But if you are unfortunate and have to sit way back along the wall, your vision is blocked by the second level, and you can't see over 9 feet. This is a severe problem with a show like Cirque Dreams where half the action happens on ropes 15 feet up. Not to mention that the pillars block five tables views. Also it seemed very cramped to me with no kid's menu's and difficulty with getting a shrimp free salad (shellfish allergy.) It is simply a poorly designed venue. It seems like they created it and forced the Cirque show in it, when in reality it was designed specifically for the show. So you'd think they would have worked out the sight line problems in advance. A lot of people really liked the tent, but I thought it was a huge design flaw. Headliners is about the only venue that is appropriately sized in that it can seat about 350 people. But this is used primarily by second city and Howling at the moon, and those shows don't attract the crowds of the others so the venue works. Although the stage is small, and it's a flat floor making sight lines poor, that is to be expected in a stand up comedy type venue. Finally, since all three venues are located along the same long hallway on deck 6 it lead to significant "queuing" before shows. Since lines began at least an hour before each performance and there were several per night, you actually could have all three venue lines running into each other at the same time. It was quite crazy and lead to one guest renaming the boat NLC or Norwegian Line Cruise. I simply called it the Epic Line. Lets not forget that we were only at 75% when this happened. I can't imagine when they are at full capacity. I expect that NCL will fix many things on this boat before it goes to the Caribbean, but to expect that the shortsightedness in these venues will be improved anytime soon is a little optimistic in my opinion.
The box office hours were another major issue. They were not open during a typical 8-5 schedule and instead were available until about 10AM and then reopened back up at 3PM. Once you can book shows on your tv this won't be a problem. But considering the craziness that ensued on this cruise with people not getting into shows, you would have thought they would have manned it as much as possible to sort through all the issues.
The Blue Man Group is a great show for kids and adults, and is actually free to attend. If you haven't seen it before it is quite an experience. It is a bit odd, but basically is three guys with blue paint on their faces playing percussion. Its funny, and unique and a great way to spend an evening. It is a longer show then most at about 65-70 minutes, but well worth it. It is loud, so be prepared. Also, if you like to get engaged, sit in the first few rows. They give you a poncho to make sure you don't get covered in paint. I have seen this show in Chicago and Vegas and it is on par with the land based shows. Normally you would pay over $80 per person for these tickets so take advantage of it. The group is also around the ship a lot and were very friendly. It was great to talk with them and get their perspective on the show.
Jeff Hobson was a comic magician who played in the Headliners club. Personally I enjoyed the show very much, but some others did not. He is more comedy then magic and most everything is simple slight of hand tricks, but he throws some surprises in at the end that make it entertaining. He does pull people out of the audience, and had the audience rolling. I would highly recommend it, but I would also say that he does several gay jokes (implying that he himself is a homosexual) so if you have issues with this, then it might not be your kind of show.
The Second City troop has about 9 performances over the course of the week. All were held in the Headliners club. The group of six did sketch comedy and some a lot of improvisation. Having lived in Chicago for many years, I have seen several Second City shows and they can be great or just ok depending on the suggestions the crowd gives. Personally I really enjoyed the group and saw about 5 shows. Since each are different, you can keep coming back and get a different experience each time. They do have family friendly shows earlier in the night and get progressively more raunchy as the night wears on. If you like this kind of comedy, then this group is worth checking out.
The Cirque Dreams show is held in the Spiegel Tent and is very similar to a Cirque de Solei (however it is not) in the sense that it has acrobatic performers doing some pretty amazing stunts. This is a first for a cruise ship, and as you can imagine, the activities take on a new degree of difficulty during high seas. This is not "O" or "Mystere" by any means, but the performers are very talented and as far as crusie ships go, its actually a pretty good show. Its major flaw is the small venue size and terrible sight lines listed above. It is certainly worth the extra money to see the show, but pay the $20 for the premium seats and make sure you get their early enough to get good seats. Other wise don't waste your time.
Howlin at the moon is a trio of Dueling piano players (one plays drum or base) that plays late night at Headliners. The crowd puts in requests and the group sing s them. Music choices ranged from Journey's "Don't stop believing" to Metallica. There were some classics like "Mack the Knife" and even the Chicken Dance. They really are pretty impressive and a great way to spend an evening. They even played Bare Naked Ladies "If I had a million Dollars" which got the crowd on its feet.
They still do the White Hot Party towards the end of the cruise and it would normally be up outside at the Spice H2O lounge which would be cool. Since it was raining on our cruise it was in Bliss. Our cruise was not exactly a typical Carribean crowd so it wasn't exactly a rocking party, but it was still fun and the staff kept everyone interested. I've been to several of these on various NCL cruises and the quality of the event depends entirely on the type of people on the cruise.
The Murder Mystery is run by the Second City troop and is held in the Spiegel tent. We did it as a lunch and it worked out fairly well. In this case the smaller venue makes I easier for the audience to interact with the cast which is essential in these kinds of shows. However, that still means you will need to book very early if you want to get a spot at the show. Ours sold out long before the cruise even began. The show can be funny, but unless you ask the right questions, there is no way for you to figure out who actually was the murderer. I found it a bit far fetched, but my son and wife really enjoyed the show. There are absolutely no set pieces and the show is done completely improvisational, but the Second City group is good enough to sell it. If you like these kinds of shows, then I would recommend you see it.
The Legends show was held in the Epic Theatre for one night, and then moved to the Manhattan room due to scheduling issues with Blue Man. We got to see it in the Epic and the bigger stage is needed. I have seen this show in Vegas, and I can say that the talent they got on the ship is not as good. They can sing the songs and dress in the costumes, but the performers in Vegas were definitely better. We had Tina Turner, Madonna, and Elvis on this cruise. It was advertised as a 'Pre show" since they didn't have much time to rehearse. I can buy that there would be a few technical gaffs, but Elvis actually forgot the words to one of his songs. As someone who makes a living singing these same songs over and over, I would have expected more. Plus all three actors seemed very winded. They were really gasping for air. I can understand it if we were doing this in Denver, but come on, these people should have much more stamina at sea level. Does that mean I would skip the show? Actually no, I enjoyed it and it is on par with typical cruise ship entertainment, but don't go in expecting the same caliber as the group in Vegas.
The Nickelodeon crew did several activities and shows over the course of the cruise including Slime Time, a cartoon meet and greet, and some shirt coloring. They were still working out the kinks in the show (slime time was supposed to be in the Epic Theatre, but scheduling conflicts caused it to be on the pool deck) but overall, these 5 kids had a ton of energy and were great with the kids. Of all the performers on the ship, these guys seemed the most happy to be there, and they all had to do additional jobs as well (some actually on our laundry duty when they aren't on stage). If you have kids, then you definitely need to check these guys out.
I didn't get to see the jazz group in Fat Cats but I heard they were very good from a lot of people. If you like that kind of music, I would recommend checking this out.
Activities The ship has a lot of activities to do. I have never been on a ship with so much to do, and so many options. This is a good thing, because with 5000 people on board they have to disperse them otherwise it will be impossible to navigate the ship. NCL has done a good job of finding a little something for everybody, and while certain activities can definitely be improved, overall, you won't be bored on this ship.
There are three pools on the Epic that are open to the public. Two are located in the certain of deck 15, and one adults only is located in the back of the ship at Spice H2O (never opened on our TA cruise). There are others in the spa and the Villas, but those are not open to the public. Overall the pools are VERY small. The one in Spice was not used during the entire cruise, but just by looking at it, you can tell, that it won't be very big either. Cruise ship pools are never large, but these seem particularly tiny for 5000 people. The pools are shallow and good for kids and severe their purpose, but on a hot day in the Caribbean, you might find it difficult to get in. There are several spray areas, including a cleverly designed tunnel area where the little tikes can stay out of the sun, so there are options. But overall, I think NCL could have done a little better in this area.
There are several hot tubs on deck 15 including 5 around the pools that are large and were well used when they were open, (again another issue of the TA cruise.) There are also two tubs in the back of the boat at Spice that are adult only and they were used (when they were open) They did have several problems with them early in the cruise, but it looks like they have that worked out. Once again, there are others in the villas and in the spa, but they are not open to the public. The hot tubs perform well, but are not as extravagant as RCI's cantilever designs.
The water slides are a great addition and truly are good. I love water slides and my son and I used them whenever they were open (including a blistery 50 degree day). There are three different types and each gives a unique experience. The purple slides along the side of the ship and goes through the rock wall and stops on deck 16. It is pitch black inside and gets pretty fast. The green is the longest and winds around a lot and you can really get some speed. This was by far my favorite. The orange is affectionately known as the "toilet bowl" and you use a tube to drop down into a big bowl where you spin around a few times before being flushed down the hole. It offers some great photo opportunities. Each ends in its own run out tube, and you can access them all from the same stairs. That being said, there are still some kinks. First off is the standing water issues caused by the slides discussed in the safety section above. Second it the potential for some pretty long lines. Our cruise only had 350 kids on it, and the weather was pretty cold. Many of the Caribbean cruises are slated to have 900 kids and should be much hotter. Its pretty safe to say that the lines will be getting pretty long. Also, the orange slide had some design problems where many of the kids get stuck at the bottom of the bowl and it takes them awhile to paddle around to the hole to be flushed. This leads to a ride time of over a minute and extremely long lines at the top. They say they are trying very hard to fix it by varying the water speed, but they never did get it right during our week long trip. Overall the slides are great, but just be aware that there will be long lines.
The ship has two 3-lane bowling alleys. One is locate in O'Sheehan's and the other is on deck 7 in Bliss. Bowling on a cruise ship is a lot of fun. You have to factor in the sway of the ship (which can be significant in high seas) or your ball will veer off course. This of course makes the game a lot of fun, and well worth checking out. My only complaint, besides my score) was the cost. At $5 per person, per game, it's a little steep. I know they have a lot of people on the ship, and by charging it limits the interest, but of all the things to make us pay for, the bowling seemed a little bit like we were being nickel and dime'd.
The rock climbing and repelling walls are on the back of deck 15 and are a lot of fun. There is no cost to do either. The rock climbing wall is much shorter and is primarily for children or novices. Anyone who has ever been in a rock gym will be disappointed. The repelling wall is about 30 feet high and is a little more challenging with overhangs. The harness they use has many safety features built in and the staff is very helpful. My 7 year old son was able to make it down the wall. It would have been great if they would let more advanced climbers use the repelling wall to climb up as it offers some more difficult routes, but as of this point, you can only repel down.
The sport court is located on deck 17 aft and is very functional. They use it for soccer, basketball, batting cages, and ice skating. In fact, it is so versatile, that they really could have used two courts. There were always people waiting to hop in on a pick up game, and overall, it was a win for NCL.
There is indeed ice skating on the Epic. Although it is not quite as cool as you think. It was a last minute adder and they decided to use a synthetic ice product from super glide that they lay down at night on half the sport court. For those not familiar with synthetic ice, it is basically like a cutting board. It is not cold, but you use real ice skates, and it does behave like ice, just slower. Its not a bad solution, and it works well, but it is not a real ice rink like on many other ships. But for those who like to at least try skating under the stars, this works pretty well.
There is a trampoline on deck 17 next to the sport court. They hook you up in the harness and you bounce up and down. It's a lot of fun. There was some variation in what each staff member would let you do. Some didn't want you to go too high, and others wouldn't allow flips. They need to get the consistency better and everyone on the same page Another issue was the weight limit. It is only 200 lbs. which is a little low in my opinion. If its for safety reasons that's fine, however, they don't post any signs. After standing in line for over 45 minutes, I was told that I couldn't do it. That would have been nice to know in advance. And just beware that the lines are super long.
The spider web is located on deck 17 next to the sport court. Its designed primarily for kids 12 and under and is essentially an enclosed climbing apparatus that the kids work their way up. My 7 year old son absolutely loved it and did it quite a few times. Multiple kids can be in it at once so there isn't a line, and there is no cost.
The arcade is located on deck 15 near the rock climbing wall. As you would expect, it has a lot of the latest games, but some old stand buys including air hockey. There is also ping pong for free right outside the doors. During the second half of the cruise the games were set for free play, but during the first half game charges ranged from $1.50 to $5.00 per game. Since the games can be paid for by swiping a room key, you must be careful what you give to your children otherwise you could easily get a $100 arcade bill at the end of the trip, also beware as we had some issues with the games charging us more (kinks). There are also games located in O'Sheehans, including pac man and donkey kong, darts, air hockey.
Shuffleboard and chess are located outside on deck 7 and are close to the outdoor running track. Although they aren't near the other outdoor activities, this isn't necessarily a bad thing as you can get a little peace and quiet. I didn't engage in either of these activities, but its nice to know the boat has them. But I did miss being able to loop around the ship.
Occasionally they would hook the Wii game system up to the big screen in the atrium and everyone could watch as kids played tennis or bowling on a 20' tv. It's a fun novelty, but there are Wii systems in the kids club that work just as well.
Bingo is offered on the boat, and was the only activity that the cruise directors actually promoted (I thought the cruise director was almost not even on our cruise he was so quiet). It is typically held in Headliners on deck six during the day, but it did move around. I am not a bingo guy so I can't tell you much about it, but a lot of people seemed to show up.
It could have just been on our TA cruise, but the late night activities seemed very quiet. There were a lot of shows going on, but most of the activities listed above stopped by 7PM. There were often times that people wanted to continue rock climbing or using the trampoline, but were turned away. It seems like they could have extended these activity hours a little longer or at least stick to what the cruise daily said, many times we'd go to do something and find it closed, it was a bit disappointing.
Kids Club The kids club location is on deck 14 near the front of the ship. It is right off the elevators and very close to the Garden Buffet which makes eating breakfast and dropping of the kids in the morning. It is a little difficult to get to if you are locate din the back of the ship, and we found ourselves having to go up to deck 15 and walk across outside to get there. Originally the family deluxe balconies were touted as being close the kids club, but in our case that wasn't true. I don't think there is ever a place to put something that is convenient to everyone, but unless you are in the back of the ship, it's pretty easy to get to.
The size of the kids club is impressive. I can't say for sure, but it is definitely the largest one I have been in. It has great views and lots of sitting areas and mats for kids to play on. There is a climbing area, and even a dance pad. There are tons of Wii stations set up and a computer area and theatre (some things not working yet. They break the kids up by 2-5 year olds, then 6-9 and finally 10-12. Each group does have kind of a designated area in the club, but it does seem like there is enough room for all.
The staff was friendly enough and most of them knew our sons name by the end of the seven days. They are mostly young adults in their early twenties and they have enough energy to hang with the 10 year olds. Some seemed more into it then others, but that could just be attributed to the crew being tired trying to get everything ready. I hope that they will get better, but I would say that they were not nearly as friendly as previous NCL kids club groups we have worked with. Also since it was so big, we really never got to get too friendly with staff. Also for safety the wouldn't let you "back" so it felt a little closed door and we really had no idea who our sons counselors were.
There were tons of activities over the course of the 7 days including coloring shirts, having an egg drop, building rockets, a tour of the ship, and much more. The kids seemed busy and were having fun. My son did complain the first few days that they didn't seem organized, but I am sure that will be fixed as they spend a few more weeks getting the club ready. I would certainly feel comfortable leaving my kids at the club as they probably had more fun then the adults!
The Nickelodeon crew was discussed in the entertainment section above, but I did want to mention that it was a bit odd that they didn't coordinate the kids club with the Nick crew better. After all, they are both catering to the same group. The Nick group would schedule an event at the exact time that the kids club was doing something special. It forced the parents to have to choose between the two. Hopefully on future cruises they can work the schedules better.
The kids club hours were actually very good. They opened at 9AM and closed at 10:30PM. Unlike several cruises you didn't have to check you child out at lunch or dinner. You could simply leave them in there if needed. This was very useful and a big improvement over the past. You could actually pay an additional fee and keep you child there up until 1AM which is useful if you have a late show.
There is a teen club called Entourage which is located on deck 16 directly above the arcade room. It's a great location directly beneath the sports courts which it used extensively. The room is almost a lounge with great views and a ton of couches and tvs. We met several of the kids in the program, and they were very happy with it.
Common Areas First off, there currently is no library on the boat. You can get books from the bowling stand in Bliss, but until the final location is built, there is no real quiet place to read. This is not a major problem for me as I like the more active things, but I can tell you it upset A LOT of people. Obviously you could read in other public spaces, but between the smoke, or loudness, they really needed that special place where people can get away. They are supposedly converting a vacant meeting room on deck 5 near the artwork and making that into a library, but this was obviously a small oversight on NCL's part.
If you don't smoke, and don't like second hand smoke, then you may have issues on the Epic. NCL is one of the few cruise lines left that actually let guests still smoke in their rooms, but to make matters worse, the way the ship is designed, most common areas can not be gotten to unless you walk through areas where smoking is allowed. This is discussed in more detail in the ship layout section, but just know that many of the common areas may be uncomfortable for you if you are adverse to second hand smoke.
As an adder to the lack of a library, there really are not a lot of quiet places where people can just sit and enjoy a view of the ocean. That's not to say that you can't find places. The casino, the fitness center, kids club, the Garden Cafe, your balcony, basically the entire ship has great views of the sea, but none of them are really that quiet. For those who don't like to be around 5000 other people, it would be nice to have a place to escape.
Spice H2O will be a nice outdoor venue when the boat is in the Caribbean. Unfortunately, due to the weather on our cruise it was rarely nice enough to use. As someone who has a kid, I wish it wasn't adults only all the time, one night week it would be nice to have a family movie, but I'm sure there are a lot of people that would disagree with me on that, and I can see their point. However, I do wish that NCL would have included a way to show movies on a big screen around the main pool deck. Princess does this and has nightly family movies under the stars that my son and I really enjoyed watching. You can't do that at Spice, but maybe a temporary screen can be erected on the pool deck.
Experience The overall experience on this cruise was unlike any other cruise we had been on. Some was good and bad, but it did make for a very memorable week. Some of these things will be corrected on future sailings, but I thought this was important to include just so you can get the feel (at least from my perspective) on how the cruise progressed.
One overall perception that I had was that this cruise was not really "freestyle cruising" in the traditional sense. Due to the shear amount of people on the boat, you need to share tables with other guests, plan well in advance of performances in order to see shows, and stand in long lines for almost anything. It just doesn't have the same feel as a traditional NCL boat.
Also, I personally felt a little cramped on the Epic. She is a big ship, but with state rooms bring so small, and the main theatres always being jammed packed, it just felt like the ship just wasn't large enough to accommodate the people on board. And this will only get worse when it gets to full capacity.
For the most part, things were included in the ticket price, but I did feel nickel and dime'd with certain activities like bowling or using the internet. It also seemed like there weren't enough choices for restaurants that were included in the fare and that we constantly had to pay to get some variety in the food we were eating. Even the pay per view on the TV seemed a bit over priced (and didn't work), Charging $5 for a pizza for room service seems a little crazy. I know that NCL needs to make its money, but at some point, it needs to stop.
I did mention that some things were actually pretty good. The cruise director was strangely quiet throughout the voyage and besides bingo, there wasn't much being pushed. On other NCL cruises it seems that the raffle is being pushed every minute. It can drive you crazy, but in this case it was never brought up. It would have been ice to have a little more involvement from the cruise director, but I liked the trade off.
Another oddity was the staff interaction on this cruise. I am very active in seeking out staff members and talking with them, and overall the staff seemed stressed, overworked, tired, and frayed. Some were a little frazzled and had short tempers. They weren't the typical happy group that you come to expect. Others were great and treated us very well. I do feel this will improve once they get past the stress of the first week.
Just to set the record straight embarkation and debarkation were absolutely horrible for the average passenger. It took a long time to get on the ship, and even Latitude silver members had to stand in the normal line and wait two hours. Once we got two New York, it was chaotic and took much longer then necessary. I realize this isn't all on NCL, but unfortunately in sales, you only have one chance to make a first impression, and you need to leave you customer with a good feeling at the end, and on both these counts, the ship failed miserably. We were kicked out of our room early (at 11:00) and we didn't get off the ship till after 2pm. With no cruise leaving that night it would have been nice to remain in the room instead of dealing with 4000 angry passengers in the atrium area.
Food Overall the food quality and variety were very good. I am by no means a food critic and am happier eating hamburgers the calamari, but I'll try to give you a description and a brief grade on each location.
The Garden Cafe Buffet and the Great Outdoors are located on deck 15 in the front of the ship and are the main buffet areas for the entire ship. The space is huge and has spectacular views. The Great Outdoors is considered a separate space but in reality is just the outdoor eating area for the buffet. The food is fine and there are a lot of choices, but it never changes from day to day so it can get a bit boring. One problem I did see was that if you came between 8 and 9AM to eat breakfast, there was a pretty good chance that you couldn't find a seat. They even open up the La Cucina eating area on several occasions to help alleviate the flow, but even then that would fill up. We were not at full capacity on this cruise, so this may be a major problem on port days when everyone is trying to eat and get off the ship quickly. As large as this space is, I think it may need to be made bigger but it is beautiful!
You can get room service at any time included in your cruise rate, but just be aware that to have a pizza delivered is an extra charge of $5. This seems a bit excessive to me, and I wish they would just include it for no cost.
Manhattans is another one of the restaurants that are included in the fair. It is a la carte and the food is good. It is located on deck six in the back of the ship and has some great views and a nice stage. They actually held some shows like Legends in the venue. Service was a bit slow with the kitchen located away from the venue.
Taste is another fare included restaurant that is located in the center of deck 5 and is open to deck six. It's a slightly different feeling then Manhattans, but has the exact same menu, so its' just another option with a different look.
O'Sheehans is a bar/restaurant located in the center of the ship on deck six and is open to deck 5 through the main atrium. It is by far the best venue on the boat. It runs the entire width of the ship and has arcade games and even a three lane bowling alley. The restaurant is named after the head chef for NCL, but is designed to be and Irish beer pub. The restaurant was included in the fare and gives another option. It is a great place to sit to watch a sporting event, or just hang out.
Cagneys is a Chicago steak house located at the back of the ship on deck 7 and shares a space with Moderno and overlooks Manhattans. It s about $20 more per person, but if you like fine steaks, its probably worth it.
Moderno is a Brazilian steak house located on deck 7 in the same space as Cagneys. It is similar to Fogo de Chow or Texas de Brazil. It has a great salad bar and guys walk around carrying the meats. For $18 more a person it is a great deal if you love a variety of meats. It really is a great restaurant.
La Cucina is an Italian restaurant located on deck 14 under the Garden Buffet. It's a little odd to get to in the sense that you have to walk through the buffet to get there, but it is a nice space and has great views. It is the cheapest of the adder restaurants and a nice change of pace.
The Noodle Bar is a pay as you go a la carte restaurant that offers a lot of asian noodle choices for a great price. It is located on deck 6 right off the casino, which is convenient, but you still have to deal with the smoke issue.
Other pay as you go restaurants on the ship that I didn't go to are Shanghai, Wasabi, Yakitori, Teppanyaki, and Le Bistro. The reviews I got on those varied, but overall people seemed pleased.
Bars The Ice Bar is a novel idea and the only one of its kind on a cruise ships. It costs $20 per person to get in and includes 2 drinks. They give you a fake fur coat and you get some great photos but once the novelty wears off, you really don't want to hang out in this place because it is very cold. If you haven't been to the one in Vegas, then it's worth a visit.
Spice H2O is located on deck 15 in the way back of the ship and is an outdoor adults only bar. It has tiered seating, two hot tubs, and a LED movie screen and a pool that was never open on our trip.. Its great for shows and parties like the White Hot. It is a pretty nice place as long as the weather is nice.
Bliss is a night club style bar located in the front of the ship on deck 7. It has a bit of a "Goth" theme but also has a bowling alley. It's a trendy night club style, and kind of neat if you are into that type of stuff.
Headliners is a comedy club bar that was used primarily for Second City and the dueling pianos. It is a flat floored venue with some high tables and a small stage located in the corner. The motif has a renovated warehouse feel and its pretty fun. If you like comedy, then you'll be happy with this space.
Fat Cats is a blues bar located on deck 6 towards the rear of the ship. It is directly off the casino, but is enclosed and feels removed from the rest of the ship. They blues band inside is purportedly good, and if you like that kind of music, then Fat Cats is definitely for you.
O'Sheehans is discussed in the food section
Fitness and Spa The fitness center is one of the best features on this ship. I simply have very little to critique about it. It is a very large area located on deck 14 and has great panoramic views. The equipment is top notch and brand new state of the art. You can even hock your Ipod up to it and watch your shows while controlling them on your bikes screen. There were lots of weight machines and a free weight area. There were also yoga gyms, a spin room and what looked like a pilates studio. There are many detailed reviews of the fitness area and spa so I won't go into it too much, but here are some things I haven't seen on other posts.
They have good classes like the new TRX training and spinning but they are a bit expensive in my opinion. $60 for four spin classes is a bit exorbitant, and I also didn't like the fact that towards the end of the cruise they started to lock the spin room so you couldn't walk in without an instructor and hop on a bike yourself.
The spa area is nice but it was severely overbooked. This could be different on other cruises since our weather was poor and many people who would have lounged on deck moved down to the spa instead, but it still shows that the EPIC is not designed well for the shear number of people on board. Hopefully this improves on future cruises because the space is very nice.
There is a racquetball court in the fitness center but it is currently being used for the TRX training. I don't get the sense that packing up the TRX stuff is easy so at this point, I don't think you can expect to play racquetball on the Epic. This is a bit odd considering they just built the ship. Why build a court and then put the TRX apparatus in there. Just build another gym dedicated just to that. Another bad design by NCL.
Casino I am not a huge gambler but I can honestly say that this is the biggest and best casino I have ever seen on a ship at sea. It covers almost 2/3 of deck 6 and the entire width of the ship. It has every game imaginable, and its easy to believe you are actually in Vegas. The ship is designed to route everyone through the casino, so its easy to access, and overall should be a big money maker for NCL.
I can say that the casino did appear filled during most times, but it was never cramped. Of course its odd that the casino was right sized while the rest of the entertainment venues were obviously not, but we can see where NCL wanted to make its money. Since you do have to walk through the casino to get places, people will stop and look over your shoulders so if you like to gamble in privacy, this design is not perfect for you.
The casino did appear smokey to me, but I will admit that I am sensitive. Other posters have claimed that half the casino was non smoking, but I just don't see how that can be accomplished. And as stated below in the ship layout, for those who do not like smoke, the casino design is a VERY big issue and one that if not corrected may cause people not to come back on the ship for health reasons.
There did seem to be a few big winners that I heard screaming as I passed through, but overall, I don't know if you should really expect to pay for your cruise by playing the slots on this ship. I just didn't like being aft on the boat and always having to walk my child through the smoke and bells and whistles of the casino. He was fascinated by all the different types of slot machines. They "called" to him!
Ship Layout The major problem in the layout of the ship is the casino. It is huge and wonderful, but it takes up 2/3 of deck six, and patrons have to walk through it to get to just about anything including fat cats, O'Sheehans, or even the Epic theatre. This was designed to be this way on purpose, and I totally get the fact that NCL wants people to walk through the casino and maybe try a slot machine. This makes complete sense, and I don't have a problem with it. However, I do have an issue with the fact that the casino allows smoking and you can't get to any of these locations without having to inhale second hand smoke. I realize as Americans that we are more sensitive to smoking then other countries, however, my son is asthmatic and this really was a problem for us. For those in the back of the ship, it is really hard to get to the front of the ship without using deck six. You could do deck 7 but it is open to six in several places and the smoke still moves up. Plus several restaurants including Taste, Manhattans, and the Asian cuisine offer no options other then having to deal with the smoke. This is a true design flaw with the ship and one that NCL executives are trying to figure out. Several ship employees have even complained and hopefully smoking will decrease as our cruise consisted of many smokers from other countires.
I have discussed this before, but the second MAJOR design flaw in the ship is that the entertainment venues too small. There is simply no excuse for the Epic theatre to be almost 60% smaller then the Opal Theatre on the Oasis. You can't have 5000 people on a boat and not have the venues to support them. The lines are extremely long and the whole process takes away from the Freestyle Experience.
It seemed to me that many of the congregating areas were simply too small. I have discussed the situation with the entertainment venues, but even some of the eating spaces are cramped and even the deck space on 15 seems a little tight. There are limited spaces just to sit and chat besides O'Sheehans and they just didn't seem to use the space as well as they could.
Even for those in the Villas who are posting great reviews, they too had a design flaw in their area. The main courtyard of the suites experienced a wind funnel effect that tosses chairs around and makes the area difficult to use. This occurs primarily on windy days, but they will need to figure out how to disperse this effect.
The boat is a bit top heavy in the sense that many of the venues are located on the top decks. In fact the bottom 4 decks are reserved only for the crew and most of deck 5 is not accessible. Its nice that so many common areas have great views and lots of windows, but on a cruise like the TA where the weather was cold and windy, it really hampers the ability of this ship to perform. This is not really a design flaw, but just something to be aware of when booking the cruise.
Another issue that was common was that there seemed to not be enough elevators. There are two main banks of lifts. One group Fore and the other Aft. The middle of the boat doesn't have anything. Let me stress that this is a very long boat so you find yourself having to walk along way to get to an elevator. I didn't seem to have to wait very long for a ride so I don't feel there is a quantity issue, I just felt that they are not spaced perfectly to minimize the need to walk so much.
Overall One thing I learned from reading people's reviews on cruise critic is that everyone wants different things out of their cruises. I tried to provide as detailed account of things as possible in this lengthy review. I am not trying to bash NCL or the Epic. She is a beautiful ship, and we are already booked for another cruise (on another ship) with NCL in April. That being said, the whole point of providing a critique is to give useful information so that people can actually make informed decisions. It is not my job to simply promote NCL or justify the cruise in my own mind as others have asked us to do. The ship does need to be improved, and I'm sure it will be. But NCL won't know about it, unless we post our concerns. Honestly, I did expect more fanfare when we were leaving and coming into port, and I did feel like the ship could have used another three days to prepare before we got on it. Like others have said, I felt like this was just a repositioning, and we were simply cargo along for the ride. I could get into specifics, but I think I've said enough above. The reality is, for me personally, she is too big. I learned that I don't need to be with 5000 other people. I like the smaller Jewel class and even though she doesn't have all the features, I feel more engaged with cruise. But that is just my opinion. Would I sail on the Epic again, probably not. That's not to say others didn't have a great time, she just wasn't what I want out of a cruise especially with all the kinks which we encountered paying a pretty hefty fare.