First off, I want to say that we loved this cruise and this ship. We had a fabulous time!! Was it perfect? No, nothing is, but in general we were very happy and pleased and my husband is already thinking of booking another cruise on the Epic. Our opinion is that this is a great cruise for families especially those with younger children (can't comment on the experience for older kids/teens). This may not be the cruise for people without children who are looking for a more sedate (for lack of better word) experience.
Embarkation: Our first view of the Epic made us say "wow." She is impressive in port - huge and tons of balconies. When we saw her compared to a few other ships along the course of the cruise, we always commented on how many more balconies the Epic had which we thought was nice. Our embarkation experience was smooth and efficient. Porters took our luggage right away and we were checked in and on the ship within 30 minutes. No long lines, etc.
The ship: We thought the ship was lovely. The "newness" of the ship definitely appealed to us (we tend to like new and modern). We took some time to explore and get a feel of the ship. Despite what I had read and worried about previously, there were plenty of areas to sit and see the water as we sailed. I can definitely see how people feel that the ship does feel like a "Las Vegas hotel on the sea" especially on floors 5-7, but we actually really liked it and the different feels on different areas of the ship. Very large but started to feel less large as we got the lay of the land. There were definitely a lot of people on the ship but we never felt crowded anywhere. We did not have to stand on a lot of lines at anytime (the longest line we waited on was for disembarkation but we were in no hurry to get off since we were sad to be done with vacation and our flight was not until the evening).
Our room: We were in a standard family balcony room (13067) and we loved it especially the location. To us, the location became more important than the actual room. We were very close to the elevators and were directly below the kids' club (which we used) and 2 floors down from the Garden Cafe where we always ate breakfast and fed the kids a lot. So easy for us. Our room was small but fine for the 4 of us since our kids are young. I don't think this room would work for a family with older kids or for friends traveling together, but for us it was fine. We thought it was nicely decorated and had modern conveniences. The much talked about bathrooms were not an issue for us. My husband actually commented many times that he liked the way it was laid out since one of us could shower while the other used the bathroom or the sink/mirror, etc. We are not modest within our immediate family at home, so the lack of privacy was not an issue with us at all. We actually really liked the shower - it was roomy and had pretty good water pressure. The sink is small but since I was aware of the issue beforehand, we just were careful when turning on the water (made sure we turned it on slowly and gently) and we kept one of the towels on the side of the sink to soak up whatever extra water spilled out. Turned out not to be an issue for us at all but could see how it could bother some people. We also always made sure that we put the mat down outside the shower and had no problems there. The toilet flush is loud and I was worried about going to the bathroom at night and waking my family (since I tend to go several times at night!), but for some reason, it never woke my family and ceased to be an issue (washing my hands also did not wake them). And my kids are not the best or heaviest sleepers at all.
The room was definitely a little narrow but we managed to navigate just fine. It was a little more difficult when the bed was down from the ceiling but this was a minor annoyance to us. We loved that there was plenty of storage space. We didn't have any issues with this and I pack heavy!! And we stowed a Britax carseat as well. It worked well for us. The biggest problem is that these rooms really are better for 3 people than 4 if your kids are not small. The couch which is considered the 3rd bed is truly only a couch and it is hard as a rock so no one ended up sleeping on it - we used it to throw our stuff on. My husband slept on the Pullman bed (pulled out from the ceiling) and he did complain that it was hard as a rock. The queen bed was fine (I didn't find it as comfortable as others said but wasn't bad either - just fine) and I slept in this with my kids but they are small and this wouldn't work with 2 older kids. I also don't know how this would work for friends if they were planning to separate the beds as there does not seem to be any room to really separate them. So, worked for us, but can see how it would not work for everyone.
We loved our balcony - we had a hump room with a very large balcony that was completely covered. Loved the privacy of it and my husband and I spent a lot of time reading or snacking or just relaxing on it while my kids napped. Beautiful views of the water. Very relaxing and enjoyable!
I know lots of people have spoken about the light system and needing to put your card in the slot to turn on the lights. It actually was great for us because I always knew where at least one room card was! I also liked that I didn't have to shut off all lights when I left as they all went out when I took my card out. We had no problems with the a/c turning off - it seemed to stay on even when the card was out and often times the room was too cold and I had to turn the temp up!
Our room was made up 2x/day without fail and one thing that I loved and appreciated is that we had fresh towels each time. A little thing, but something that was important to me.
Staff: We found that the staff in general was fantastic and friendly. Staff members always said hi to us throughout the ship and were always willing to accommodate our requests. Of course, there were 1 or 2 who weren't the very best, but can't expect perfection. Our room steward was great - accommodated our every request and always with a smile. She knew our kids names as soon as she met them and always made a point of greeting them by name (as did other staff members who met them around the ship).
Pools: I have to preface this by saying we really used only the waterslides and the kids' pool area. I went in the regular pools once just to experience it - I have to say that I did not really enjoy it (and I am a pool person). They are small which I don't care so much about since I am not swimming, just cooling off, but I don't care for the salt water so much. Just not my thing. We did enjoy the sprinklers around the pool which my kids had a blast running through and just getting wet (we did this on the first day in the evening when not many people were around so we weren't disturbing anyone). We mostly hung out by the kids' pool area which my kids loved! My husband and I took turns watching them and I would sit in the shallow water and play with them, cool off, and observe. I met a lot of other mothers there and they all seemed to be enjoying just sitting in the shallow water of the pool and enjoying time with their kids. There was one day that some older kids were in the little kids' area and were a little rougher than should be, but that was for a very limited amount of time and otherwise, the kids were very age appropriate for this area.
We did not ever have trouble finding lounge chairs around the pool and I actually would always pull one up close to the kids' pool so that I could lounge if I wanted to while keeping an eye on my children having fun. We often would move from there to the main deck beside the end of the Epic plunge so the kids could watch mommy or daddy come down - they thought that was so cool!
My husband and I loved the waterslides (I guess we are big kids at heart!). I especially loved the Epic plunge - it was not the fastest or most adrenaline producing, but was just my speed and I found it really a lot of fun. This however was one of the other longest lines I waited on - it did take a long time to get a tube and then you had to stand on another line to go down. A tad annoying but not the worst.
The Kids' Club/Recess: This is one of the reasons we picked NCL. We have a 3 year old who has decided she is "never going potty" so we needed a kids' club that took non-potty trained kids. For us, the kids club gave us the ability to have both family time but then adult time alone during which the kids were well taken care of and having a lot of fun. We spent most of the days together as a family (on the sea days, the kids did spend a couple of hours there if they wanted to and they did not go during the day during the ports since we went off the ship all together); the kids did go every evening after their dinner for the evening. We would feed them dinner earlier and then drop them off so that we could have time alone and enjoy the adult things on the ship (better restaurants, shows, bars, etc). My kids loved the kids club. My 3yo had some separation anxiety towards the end of the cruise, but the counsellors handled it well and she calmed down as soon as she was in and engaged. I found that the counsellors in general were great, caring and fun and they really seemed to get to know my children as individuals. My 5yo has some mild developmental delays but they took this in stride and worked with him and us. They had a great mix of planned activities and free play and did lots of fun projects, face painting, etc. The space for the kids club is big, light, colorful and really fun looking. They gave each kid a band and made you show your room key each time you brought them in and took them out, even though they knew us, which made me feel much better. My kids truly loved it and we felt really good and secure leaving them there knowing they were having fun and were safe - allowed us to enjoy our own time together as adults.
The other nice thing about this kids club is their hours. They are open all day (not sure exactly what time in the morning they start since we were never there in the morning) but then they are open all day without breaks until 10:30pm. Then it switches to group babysitting from 10:30p-1:30am for those who want to use it. It is $6/hour for the first child and $4/hour for the sibling. It was different than our Carnival experience where they closed after several hours (for lunch, for dinner time, etc) and we had to make sure we picked up the kids at certain times. NCL's hours allowed us to drop off and pick up the kids on our schedule rather than theirs which was more convenient and flexible for us and the kids.
2 minor negatives on the kids club (though one was not for us but may be for others). Since we had a child who was not potty trained, we received a cell phone that they could call us on if she needed a diaper change (they don't change diapers which was fine with me - we actually never got called for this - my daughter did great!!). I felt more secure with the phone since they could reach us easily for diaper changes or any other issues. However, if you don't have a non-potty trained kid or child with another special need or circumstance, you don't get a phone. You write down where you think you are going to be on the ship while they are in the club. However, the ship is huge and you may be somewhat hard to find short of overhead paging you (which would have sent me into a panic...). I don't think I would have felt as comfortable if I didn't have a phone where I could be easily reached should the need arise (though I tend to be more on the neurotic side, I will admit!). Would have been a negative for me if I didn't have it.
Also, it is next to impossible to see what your kids are doing while in the club. They don't let adults in to the club for the safety of the children (which I agree with), but it is a big space so you can't easily "peek" on your kids while they are there. I think they would do well to have cameras in the club with screens on the outside where parents can come and take a look at their kids and see how they are doing without their kids seeing them. That way you can see what is going on, how engaged your children are, and if they are truly content. Not as big deal for older kids who can relate this all to their parents accurately, but for the younger ones, it would have been helpful (my 3yo still too young to really tell me everything accurately and my 5 yo has some speech delays). I must say that the staff was very receptive to giving us info on how our kids were doing when we checked in (ie, having a great time, engaged, having fun on the jungle gym, etc. They even truthfully told us the day that our son was a little "off" and not really participating in the activities so we took him out to take a nap - they reported that he was back to his happy self that evening). I must say that the activities, sun, etc wore my kids out - my 5yo has not napped for years - this cruise he napped every day (they also stayed up much later than usual so that was part of it too).
On the Nickelodeon stuff: We enjoyed it but felt there could have been more (it was generally inside away from the main action so should not have bothered other cruisers who were not interested in it). We did the character breakfast - it was great for the kids who loved meeting the characters. Food was mediocre (but not what we were paying for). Met Dora and Diego and Spongebob and Patrick at different times for a "meet and greet" - kids liked it and we got good pictures, but stood on line for 2 minutes of hugs and taking pictures. Again, kids loved it, so was worth it for that alone. We did a Nickelodeon arts and crafts session and the kids loved coloring (and keeping) their Nickelodeon shirts - great activity! We went to the Dora dance party - was just too crowded and crazy and overwhelming for my kids. This is the one we liked the least. I would have liked to have had more of the Nickelodeon character stuff around the ship (for example, it would have been cool for the kids to meet Dora wandering around the ship).
Entertainment and food: On the most part we thought it was great!! The restaurants were varied and the food was in the most part excellent. We ate breakfast at the Garden Cafe each morning which we enjoyed (eggs, waffles, pancakes, cereal for kids and hubby, bagel, cream cheese and lox for me generally). We also usually ate lunch by the pool or at O'Sheehans which was fabulous - those wings are to die for!! And we loved the O'Sheehans atmosphere. Pizza was delicious for a cruise ship. My kids ate dinner at Garden Cafe each night per their request (though how can hamburgers, pizza, french fries, hot dogs, chicken nuggets, and ice cream be bad?!). My husband I tried the other restaurants once my children were ensconced in the kids club. Though we did La Cucina and Teppanyaki with the kids as well. Didn't like La Cucina - it was a beautiful setting and a beautiful ocean view, but food was mediocre at best. They only charged us half price for the kids though. We had fun at Teppanyaki and the kids enjoyed it, but they did charge us full price for the kids (boo!). My husband and I tried Cagney's - I am not a steak eater so just okay for me. I had the lobster which I actually found somewhat salty (weird). My husband really enjoyed the steak. We liked the look and feel of the restaurant and we were sitting at a window overlooking the Manhattan Room and got to see part of Legends in Concert while we were eating (couldn't really hear it though!). We also tried Wasabi - was decent for cruise sushi. We are sushi snobs however, so we only did it once just to try it. We loved Le Bistro and went twice. Gorgeous venue especially sitting at a table by the window as we sailed. Food was incredible!! My husband does not typically like french restaurants and he asked to go a second time he liked it so much.
Drinks were delicious and plentiful of course. We loved sampling all the different martinis and finding ones we liked. Also loved Shakers and spent a lot of time there in the evenings - sipping our martinis and listening to Bernie Martini on the piano - very relaxing and enjoyable. One of my favorite spots on the ship to relax.
We did go to Ice Bar for the experience - that is what it was - an experience to do once. Very interesting but I only lasted 15 minutes before it became unpleasant for me and I left. But I am glad I tried it and enjoyed it for the 15 minutes!
We saw Blue Man Group and loved it! We had seen it years ago in NYC and liked it even more this time around. We also did Cirque which we really enjoyed as well. Did not like the food but that wasn't why we went (and we went and got wings at O'Sheehans afterwards!). When Cirque first started, both my husband and I thought it could be a long 2 hours, but it really picked up after the first 15-20 minutes and then we really enjoyed it (we have seen several Cirque shows in Las Vegas in the past). These acrobats are amazing and my husband could not get over that they could do these things on a moving, rocking ship! We also saw Second City which we really enjoyed a lot (we didn't have reservations but got in without a problem). Our favorite night time entertainment was Howling at the Moon - loved it!! So much fun and these guys are so talented.
Never ate at the MDRs if you can believe it - just too much else to do and try.
Bowled once and the kids loved it. Lots of fun.
Ports: Had a good time at the ports and it was very easy to get on and off (no lines for us except for Nassau - will get to that in a minute). Did not do any ship excursions, so can't comment on those. Our only snafu came in Nassau. The captain came on and announced that we were unable to stop in Nassau due to weather/winds (tropical storm). However, then the rumor started going around that we had turned around and we were trying to get into port. We could see out and a Carnival ship was heading directly towards port (and both Carnival and Disney were docked by the time we got there). We ended up getting there but got off the ship about 1.5-2 hours late. I had booked an independent excursion through Dolphin Encounters and by the time we got off, we had missed the last ferry out to Blue Lagoon (we waited at the disembarkation area so we were among the first to get off when we were cleared but there was a VERY long line of unhappy people behind us anxious to get off). I must say that Dolphin Excursions helped us greatly - since NCL was still taking people on the excursion to Blue Lagoon they just had the ferry come pick us up at the ferry dock where we were and we were able to do our dolphin encounter as planned. We had hoped that the ship would leave an hour or 2 later from Nassau so that we could have some extra time to explore, but that did not happen which was disappointing. It also made our Bahamas day a little more hectic and rushed than we would have liked.
Spa: Went twice for services and once to the salon for a mani/pedi. Had very good services and nice technicians. However, the "experience" was not as great as I would have hoped especially for the amount they charge. I love getting spa treatments and love spending time at a good, beautiful spa. The spa was beautiful but I think they need to work out their system a little better. The first time I got there, they took me to the relaxation room and sat me there and told me to wait. I waited and waited until after my appt time and then finally found someone to ask what was going on. She was apologetic and got me taken care of (and I had a wonderful service). Also, you can see the sauna, hydrotherapy tub, restroom area with showers, lockers, toilets, etc from the relaxation room, but no one told me if I could partake in them or not. I would have loved to at least steamed, gotten a robe, etc (especially when I paid over $200 for a 75minute massage). The second spa service I got, they sat me in the waiting room where my masseuse picked me up - but as I sat there, I was not sure if I had been forgotten or not (didn't even go to the relaxation room). Again, a great service itself, but would have enjoyed a bit more pampering. My mani/pedi was great and loved relaxing in my spa chair looking out the full length windows at the sea as my feet were massaged!
Sorry this post is so long and hopefully it gives some useful information. Probably lots I have forgotten. For our family, it was truly a wonderful, magical vacation. We were together with our kids and ate well, played well and just relaxed (and were not at work!). We loved the Epic - think she is a fabulous, fun, modern ship and would definitely sail her again!